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Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas (Read 3010 times)

Offline mcgillcomposer

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Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas
« on: May 17, 2007, 05:39:37 PM »
Hi everyone,

I just purchased Ashkenazy's recording of the 32 Beethoven sonatas. I must admit that I have not yet listened to all of them, but so far I am not impressed in the least. I find his playing to be incredibly dry and rather "rangeless". By this I mean that he uses a very small dynamic range and a very limited range of tone colours (e.g. variations with pedaling, hand pedaling, phrasing, articulation, the relationship from one note to the next, etc.). Alot of the forte passages and, in particular, sforzandos sound as if he is carelessly banging as hard as he can on the piano.

It seems to me that Beethoven, in general, requires an extraordinary amount of variation in both dynamics and tone colour due to the incredible emotional range of his music, and not some schizophrenic (for lack of a better term) mélange of LOUD and ...soft...it just comes across as being uncontrolled.

Did anyone else have this feeling when listening to Ashkenazy playing the sonatas? Don't get me wrong, he is a very accomplished pianist and I have NO doubt that he is capable of achieving many planes of tone...maybe he just got lazy???
Asked if he had ever conducted any Stockhausen,Sir Thomas Beecham replied, "No, but I once trod in some."

Sheet music to download and print: Sonatas by Beethoven



Offline frederic chopin

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Re: Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #1 on: May 17, 2007, 08:23:04 PM »
I completely agree with your analysis of his playing. For all those reasons, I have never bought any of his recordings for a long time. Instead of maturing well with age (like a fine wine), he seems to be going the other way!
 
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Offline ramseytheii

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Re: Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #2 on: May 18, 2007, 02:07:36 AM »
I often wonder if recording techniques get in the way of pianists sounds, because when I heard him live he sounds exciting and makes a lot of diverse tone qualities.  but I agree that the recordings seem too flat.  Perhaps over-equalised?  Or maybe he gets nervous in front of the microphone. 

Walter Ramsey

Offline quantum

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Re: Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #3 on: May 18, 2007, 03:28:27 AM »
I often wonder if recording techniques get in the way of pianists sounds, because when I heard him live he sounds exciting and makes a lot of diverse tone qualities.  but I agree that the recordings seem too flat.  Perhaps over-equalised?  Or maybe he gets nervous in front of the microphone. 

Walter Ramsey


I too question if it has something to do with the recording technique or pianos selected.  All of the recordings I have heard by him are on the same label, and have similar sonic properties. 
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline placebo

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Re: Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #4 on: May 18, 2007, 01:57:58 PM »
@mcgillcomposer
Which Ashkenzay-box have you just bought: the 1995-LONDON release Decca 4437062
or the cheaper 2007-DECCA re-issue Decca 4428887?

Please, could you inform us on how many total pages/languages the booklet has? (thick detailed booklet = good package value)

Thank you!

Offline pita bread

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Re: Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #5 on: May 18, 2007, 03:10:09 PM »
I often wonder if recording techniques get in the way of pianists sounds, because when I heard him live he sounds exciting and makes a lot of diverse tone qualities.  but I agree that the recordings seem too flat.  Perhaps over-equalised?  Or maybe he gets nervous in front of the microphone. 

Walter Ramsey


Live performances contain an "edge" from nerves, adrenaline, excitement or whatever-you-want-to-call-it that is rare in studio recordings.

You also have to keep in mind Ashkenazy has recorded a huge amount of the piano repertoire. It's unlikely that he actually studied every piece in depth, especially in these large complete-works/complete-sonatas-kind-of-recordings.

That said, Ashkenazy's live Scriabin is some of the best I've ever heard.

Offline lazlo

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Re: Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #6 on: May 18, 2007, 04:00:17 PM »
I just don't entirely understand the point of starting a thread to bash another pianist... Maybe because its so easy to criticize, and much less easy to actually produce. So he's not your favorite, but can't you just be happy you had the privilige to listen to one of the great pianists???

Offline maxy

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Re: Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #7 on: May 18, 2007, 04:43:03 PM »
I just don't entirely understand the point of starting a thread to bash another pianist... Maybe because its so easy to criticize, and much less easy to actually produce. So he's not your favorite, but can't you just be happy you had the privilige to listen to one of the great pianists???

I don't think it was meant to bash.  It's just probably someone that bought the set because so many people say "Ash is one of the greatest pianists ever". The guy did not find the set very good and decided to react here.  No harm done.

Offline ramseytheii

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Re: Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #8 on: May 18, 2007, 06:46:56 PM »
I don't think it was meant to bash.  It's just probably someone that bought the set because so many people say "Ash is one of the greatest pianists ever". The guy did not find the set very good and decided to react here.  No harm done.

Yes, plus he may have saved someone the expense of buying the entire piano sonatas by someone they won't end up liking!

Walter Ramsey

Offline electrodoc

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Re: Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #9 on: May 18, 2007, 11:56:36 PM »
What a difficult post to respond to. I have to declare a bias right at the start - Ashkenazy is a friend of mine.

First, the Beethoven Sonatas. I think that the main problem is the recording lable. Decca were characterised by their own sound quality. To my ears it is rather dull and uninspiring but it was the particular quality that  said "Decca".

A second difficulty was that when Ash first came to the west he was pressured into recording an excessive amount in a relatively short time. This was pressure from the record company rather than his own choice.

For live performance he will not play any work that is unrehearsed in front of even a private audience. In this respect he is a perfectionist.  I am told that even on holiday he hires a piano so that he can get in his daily practice.

In the 1970's there was a long running series on BBC television on the piano. Ash was the guests for one of the programmes. When break time came during the recording the presenter and technicians were exhausted but Ash simply went off to another studio to get an hours practice in.

He has been to my home several times ;D. While I have been talking with his wife Dodi, he has gone off to practice on my piano and I can assure everyone that he is capable of an amazing variety of tone colour and expression. (As an aside, I asked my wife not to clean to piano afterwards so that I could absorb the sweat from his fingers with the hope that some of the genius would be absorbed - it didn't work  :'().

Ashkenazy is one of the nicest people that I have had the privilege of meeting - very relaxed and very intelligent. It has been the greatest honour to me to have had the pleasure of knowing this amazing man and I feel blessed to have known him. It was through listening to his earlier recordings and recitals that inspired me to want to learn to play the piano. To me, his earlier work was a revelation. Sadly, I do not think that we shall have the pleasure of hearing him live any more. His hands cause him some discomfort - not enough for the listener to notice but enough for him to know.

Finally, a small anecdote. During one conversation I mentioned that he never played any Bach. He responded by saying that he did not feel that he was a Bach player. Some time later he releases the complete 48p&f! I would like to think (but very much doubt it) that I had a small part to play.

Although I have not managed to meet up with him for a few years now but I still receive a regular Christmas card and occasional letter.

Offline mattgreenecomposer

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Re: Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #10 on: May 19, 2007, 01:02:06 AM »
I agree with Laslo.
I kinda like these recordings actually.  Ashkenazy goes through SO MUCH REPETOIRE!  I can't imagine how hard he works.  Give him a break would you. 
Listen to his Rach, If you dont like his Beethoven--fantastic~! ;D
Download free sheet music at mattgreenecomposer.com

Offline mikey6

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Re: Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #11 on: May 19, 2007, 02:08:44 AM »
I heard on the radio the otehr day that's he's giving up piano palyign coz of arthritis I think, and is taking up principal conductor of the Sydney Symphony - yeh Aussies! ;D
Never look at the trombones. You'll only encourage them.
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Offline placebo

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Re: Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #12 on: May 19, 2007, 07:39:33 PM »
I just ordered the mentioned 2007-DECCA re-issue Decca 4428887, total ~EUR23. 10-12 weeks to arrive (from Canada to Europe). If it aint good enough i could sell it at ebay --never did such a thing before--, and then go for the Brendel90's for USD99.90 at newbury comics (~EUR78.20). Brendel is 3.5 more expensive, so i guess purchase costs should matter.  ::)

Offline mcgillcomposer

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Re: Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #13 on: June 16, 2007, 04:53:27 AM »
Hey everyone,

Thanks for the replies. Electrodoc, your reply was particularly interesting. As for creating a post to bash a pianist...that was not my intention at all. I was curious to know what others thought of Ashkenazy's playing in general. This is not a useless post for me for one reason in particular: It gave the chance for someone to explain something about A's playing that I had not yet recognized.

I am always interested in learning from my posts...I do not write for the sole purpose of criticizing, and when I do (unless the person I am responding to is being a total *ss :P) I do it in a very diplomatic fashion.

- D.

P.S. It is the 2007 recording. The booklet is quite thick, and is in English, French, and German. Unfortunately the content is not so interesting if one knows a little already about the history of the sonatas. 
Asked if he had ever conducted any Stockhausen,Sir Thomas Beecham replied, "No, but I once trod in some."

Offline thalbergmad

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Re: Ashkenazy - Beethoven Sonatas
«Reply #14 on: June 16, 2007, 10:53:26 AM »
If the version i have is the same as is being discussed here (mine is on cassette), i stopped listening after the 3rd sonata, which he played so quickly that i felt he missed out on much beauty.

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