Customer Reviews: Beethoven: The Complete Piano Sonatas
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VINE VOICEon October 3, 2012
It's worth remembering that when the young Ludwig van Beethoven initially conquered Vienna, it was as a pianist, not a composer. The brilliance, dynamism, and expressivity of Beethoven's playing came as a shock to audiences more accustomed to the neat and smooth playing of Mozart and politely brilliant playing of Clementi. Beethoven was a true virtuoso - at a time before it became a dirty word.

Beethoven's piano sonatas are now a staple of the repertoire. From the patrician Wilhelm Kempff, to the analytical Alfred Brendel, to the generic Vladimir Ashkenazy - there have been many sonata cycles of note since Artur Schnabel recorded his pioneering set in the 1930s. Stewart Goodyear's traversal is the first complete cycle that I know of that comes from a truly virtuoso perspective. A Canadian, Goodyear made headlines this year when he played all of Beethoven's Sonatas in a single day - a daunting prospect for a performer and even for an audience. These were not recorded at that concert, but under studio conditions from 2010-2012.

Goodyear is scrupulous when it comes to matters of textual fidelity - declining even to double bass notes where Beethoven's keyboard didn't extend far enough. He's also clearly done his research about 19th Century performance practice when it comes to tempo: thus under Goodyear's hands some of the composer's adagios sound like andantes, andantes like allegros, allegros like prestos - that is to modern ears. If you're the kind of person who equates slow tempos with profundity, this is not the cycle for you. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Hammerklavier, where Goodyear's observance of Beethoven's metronome marking in the opening movement gives the lie to Brendel's statement that it can't be played at tempo "by any pianist, on any piano." Yes, Al, it can. In Appassionata's finale, Goodyear adopts the same tempo Rubinstein took in his 1946 recording, but unlike Rubinstein he observes the repeat and actually plays all the notes. He also plays the octave glissandi in the Waldstein as they were written. One obvious area where Goodyear departs from the score is Beethoven's pedal markings, which would result in a muddy sound on a modern piano. Indeed, one could almost take dictation given the clarity of Goodyear's playing, and his technique is equal to Pollini in his prime.

These are bold, large scaled performances that return vitality and a sense of discovery to a part of the repertoire that has become overly familiar. Goodyear's performances changed my perceptions of many of these works - and that's saying something for someone who hasn't just listened to recordings, but studied the scores. Goodyear's virtuosic approach to these sonatas is entirely valid - although I wouldn't want to be deprived of hearing the perspectives of other performers. Beethoven's sonatas are rich enough for varied interpretations.

The sound places the piano boldly forward, yet with a realistic sense of space around it. The rather colloquial liner notes are by the pianist.
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on January 20, 2013
This is such astoundingly fine and satisfying Beethoven playing that I can best convey its qualities by way of comparisons to giants. Imagine Schnabel with an infallible supervirtuoso technique, or Gulda with far more warmth and lyricism. Yes, young Mr. Goodyear really can bear such comparisons without embarrassment; you may think I'm nuts now, but you won't after you hear him. Slightly let down by recorded sound that could have a bit more warmth and color, but only slightly. This may now be THE set to recommend to a friend who is just getting to know Beethoven's sonatas.
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on June 4, 2013
I listened to almost every Beethoven Piano Sonatas cycle including Schnabel, Beckhaus, Arrau, Kempf, Gulda, Brendel and Richard Goode. I believe Mr. Goodyear's contribution stands out as a magnificent achievement. Mr. Goodyear's interpretations are joyful, inventive, clean and intelligent. He opens new horizons and insights into this wonderful music. Highly recommended!
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on August 3, 2014
this is spectacular beethoven. none of your velvet slipper moonlight sonata or dinner jacket waldenstein, this is wonderfully youthful yet thoughtful, musical yet distinctively individual playing of these frequently recorded classical piano standards. inserting one or another disc to sample a specific movement or sonata, i found myself lured by the mastery and conviction of the performances into listening to the whole disc with great enjoyment. the phrase "inspired performances" is hackneyed, but here it is well deserved; inspirational beethoven might be more appropriate.

some reviewers have mentioned goodyear's tempi, and the liner notes commend his "swift tempos, forward sweep, linear clarity", but i think the point is overstated: with a few exceptions, his choices resemble those of kempff, schnabel or goode, and he communicates tenderness and mystery everywhere the music calls for it. he does have an aversion to shaping phrases with ritardando, which can be refreshing or disappointing depending on the context, but any "linear clarity" is balanced with a good ear for vertical balance. my main interpretive criticism is of goodyear's tendency to center a performance in the higher dynamic range and really crush the full handed fortes.

that quibble actually turns attention to the sound engineering. compiled across a two year interval by eight different producers, engineers and editors, the sound stage and presence of the instrument are uneven, and this is jarring when it comes between movements of a single work (for example in op.101). apparently performed on one or two of the rental steinways at the glenn gould studio in toronto (pianos that would have been differently prepared and adjusted, back and forth, to suit other performers during the same period), some unevenness in tone would be inevitable. however the piano tone is sometimes unpleasantly hard and harsh, almost metallic in the bass and in forte passages.

these are symptoms if not concessions to the difficulty of publishing new classical recordings without the resources of a major label and their recording studios. they should not deter the ardent beethoven lover from experiencing these refreshing, virile and individualistic interpretations.
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on November 8, 2013
Crisp, clear execution, unmannered interpretations. I have them beside my Brendel, Schiff, Scnabel, Barenboim interpretations. Also, they remind of his performing all 32 sonatas in one day in Davis, CA. Tru;y a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
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on November 22, 2013
IGNORE THE ONE-STAR REVIEW!! it was posted by someone who thought she was supposed to give her opinion on packaging here... for some reason she has not yet removed her erroneous post...

judging from the first five sonatas (haven't gotten to the rest yet -- and it can only get better) this is one of the best complete sets of Beethoven Sonatas ever released... a seemingly perfect combination of stunning technique and deep feeling for the material...

as for the packaging, it's typical for box sets of this type... you're getting 10 CDs of top quality music and playing (and a new release to boot) for $38 -- an incredible bargain... there's a nice booklet with thoughtful mini-essays by Mr. Goodyear on each sonata (which is more than you get with many of these box sets)...

can't recommend this enough!
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on November 2, 2013
I listened to each sonata comparatively with the 2 other complete collections I own and although there is merit in all the recordings I found Mr. Goodyear's interpretation to be the one where I did not find myself wanting the performer to do something different with tempo, volume, intensity, or emotion. The consistancy of performance and interpretation in this set is amazing. The energy that Mr. Goodyear brings to every piece is refreshing. I believe this is a close to perfection as it is possible to get without having Beethoven's spirit possess the performer!
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on March 5, 2013
Having now heard nearly every version of the 32, this set has become my favorite. It is like hearing Schnabel in up to date sound -- minus the wrong notes. A student of Fleisher's, I imagine that had Leon been able to record the 32, it would not have been much different from Goodyear. This is a very straightforward, straight from the plate interpretation which does not attempt to ferret out whatever lies hidden, but permits us to do our own investigation, again and again.... I suppose every Beethoven lover has his or her own way of imagining how Beethoven's playing sounded, but I, for one, have little trouble imagining Ludwig playing his works much as Stewart does.
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on January 20, 2013
I recently saw Stewart Goodyear perform with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and immediately purchased this wonderful set. I am now on CD #5 out of 10 and am very pleased and the sound quality, but more so the exceptional talent and dynamics of Stewart's playing. The liner notes state the years of study invested in the masterpieces by Beethoven and his practice and focus over the years has paid off in a big way. Though a tad expensive I would highly recommend this box set.
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on August 1, 2014
This is an excellent set, played with feeling & intelligence & well-recorded. Young Goodyear (well, he's 40 yrs younger than I am...) tends to faster speeds in many movements than one generally hears, but with no loss of clarity, & we can't say that Beethoven the virtuoso didn't do the same. This doesn't supplant other famous sets but it can stand beside them, especially if you sometimes long for other players to 'get a move on'!
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