This set of recordings made in 1963 by cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and pianist Sviatoslav Richter of Beethoven's cello sonatas are the most virtuosic, the most lyrical, the most dramatic, the most expressive, the most intense, the most ecstatic, and, in a word, the greatest ever recorded. From the Empfindung style of the Op. 5 sonatas through the "Eroica" style of the Op. 69 sonata to the Elysium style of the Op. 102 sonatas, Beethoven's five cello sonatas are a précis of the highlights of his career as a composer.
“Emil Gilels stands out as giant among giants,” wrote Gramophone when the Odessa-born pianist died in 1985. “In terms of virtuosity he was second to none, yet his leonine power was tempered by a delicacy and poetry that few have matched and none has surpassed.” Beethoven was at the heart of Gilels’ repertoire and in 1968 he recorded this complete cycle of the composer’s piano concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra and its long-standing maestro, another musical titan of the era, George Szell.
The Orford String Quartet was a Canadian string quartet active from 1965 through 1991. They came to be the leading string quartet in Canada, and one of the finest in the world. For 26 years, the Orford String Quartet was the best of its breed in Canada.
One of the great cycles. Of the hundred or so available recorded cycles (out of about one hundred and fifteen or so), this rates as one of the best. In better sound than either the DG stereo cycle and the live King International cycle, Kempff's style is more poetic and less intense and fiery than others. Whatever Kempff may give away in terms of speed, power, and precision, he makes up for in other ways
Turkish pianist-composer Fazil Say set the bar high for himself by aiming to deliver one of the greatest interpretations of Beethoven with this collection. It’s a bold target given the competition, but one thing you can be sure of with him is a big personality and great individuality. He is best in the more classical sonatas; in a work that fizzes with passion, like the “Waldstein”, his character chimes well with Beethoven’s message. Some of his tempi are extreme—his “Moonlight” opening movement is very slow, while the finale is full of dramatic twists and turns—but there’s no denying the force of personality behind his playing. There are many rewards along the way.
If beauty is truth and truth beauty, then the Quartetto Italiano's late-'60s, early-'70s cycle of the complete Beethoven string quartets is possibly the most truthful cycle ever recorded because it is certainly the most beautiful cycle ever recorded. No quartet has ever played with such consummate beauty of tone, such ideal intonation, and such superb ensemble as the Quartetto Italiano. In the most strenuous passages, in the most awkward, in the most excruciating passages, the Italiano is always and everywhere transcendentally beautiful.
There's a tendency on the part of some performers to play Beethoven's First and Second Piano Concertos as if they were really by Mozart–all elegance, poise, and refinement. Happily, Boris Berezovsky finds the Beethovenian fire burning beneath the Mozartian surface. Right from his vibrant entrance in Concerto No. 1, Berezovsky plays with fierce energy (despite his generally light touch) and a clearly discernible enjoyment. This is matched Thomas Dausgaard's equally electric reading of the orchestral part, which in many ways reminds me of the classic Szell/Fleisher recording. Of course the small-scale sound of the 38-member Swedish Chamber Orchestra cannot possibly equal the full sonority of the Cleveland Orchestra in its heyday, but it's remarkable how Szell's clear textures and crisp articulation match Dausgaard's, who, by the way, is using the new Barenreiter editions. Berezovsky seems to be of like mind with Fleisher, at least terms of his singing tone and mercurial style.
Every man's death diminishes us all, but the death of a man so close to completing his greatest achievement and the summation of his life's work diminishes us all greatly – very, very greatly. When Emil Gilels died in 1985, he had completed recordings of most but not all of Beethoven's piano sonatas, released here in a nine-disc set. What's here is unimaginably good: superlative recordings of 27 of the 32 canonical sonatas, including the "Pathétique," "Moonlight," "Waldstein," "Appassionata," "Les Adieux," and the majestic "Hammerklavier," plus the two early "Electoral" Sonatas and the mighty Eroica Variations. What's missing is unimaginably priceless: five of the canonical sonatas, including the first and – horror vacui – the last. But still, for what there is, we must be grateful. Beyond all argument one of the great pianists of the twentieth century, Gilels the Soviet super virtuoso had slowly mellowed and ripened over his long career, and when he began recording the sonatas in 1972, his interpretations had matured and deepened while his superlative technique remained gloriously intact straight through to the last recordings of his final year.
In November 2007, Daniel Barenboim completed a cycle of Beethoven's piano concertos. Recorded live at the prestigious Klavier-Festival Ruhr in May 2007, this DVD recording reflects both a very individual and special reading of Beethoven’s music and the artist’s life-long dedication to the composer. Daniel Barenboim is one of the most prolific and high-profile artists performing on international stages today and Beethoven’s masterpieces have been a key part of his repertoire throughout his career, both as conductor and as pianist. Beethoven himself was a keyboard virtuoso of almost awesome abilities who created a sensation wherever he played. It is no wonder, therefore, that the piano was central to Beethoven’s overall output.