Complete Piano Sonatas Nos 1-32 [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray | Box Set
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In 1983-84 pianist Daniel Barenboim took on Beethoven's complete Piano Sonatas, some of the most versatile and challenging works for a pianist. Composed across the rather blurry boundary line between the Classical and Romantic eras, the works are endlessly varied and demanding of a broad musical ear and technique. This digital remaster offers a look at master in his element.
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Top Customer Reviews
These performances were recorded in ca. 1984 on 35mm film then much later transferred to BD format, with some recordings presenting better than others as he moves from room to room in notable Vienna palaces/living spaces, changing the available light and acoustics with each passing piece. The sound quality and image quality are commensurate with a 35mm film process: if you are expecting surround DTS-HD and 4000+ pixel digital images at high frame rates from a Red Epic or an ARRI Alexa, you're probably going to be disappointed. These videos are very good 35mm quality overall, except perhaps the Appassionata in F minor, no. 23, which suffers from low-light shallow depth-of-field focus issues. The sound is in stereo format, not 5.1 or 7.1, etc.
In terms of the performance itself, Barenboim has an amazingly disarming command of these compositions, once you realize that all 32 sonatas are performed from memory: over 12 hours of music that requires three BD disks of 4 hours each. His interpretations are simultaneously intriguing but also conservative (not overt), accurate to the period but not a slave to accuracy, expressive of his own musical interpretations while maintaining a faithfulness to the original compositional style achieving an overall performance credibility. Barenboim is not a "yet another Beethoven performer", but rather one having his own voice. I was amazed to hear his straightforward interpretations without obvious modern embellishment, but played on a modern Steinway D-274 with its corresponding majestic tonality, dynamics, and commanding presence, as opposed to the forte-piano of Beethoven's period--which is a great distraction when used to play these pieces. One wonders what Beethoven could have composed beyond these pieces if he had a modern grand piano and good hearing.
It is also important to note that all the Beethoven sonatas are performed here in compositional sequence such that the listener witnesses the composer's maturation with each passing sonata. This is nowhere more dramatic than the composer's miraculous mixture of compositional emotiveness and power starting around the Pathétique sonata no. 8 after a largely classical early writing period.
The performances here represent a five-star rating despite the noted limitations of the period's recording medium, a factor that is not taken lightly by this reviewer. Watching each passing performance itself becomes almost hypnotic, drawing in and holding the viewer's attention in ways not able to be experienced before this BD release.
I bought this set on CD a few years ago...This Blu Ray set is great..
Daniel Barenboim memorized the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas when he was only 17 years of age, and has performed them for half a century. During that time he has recorded at least four complete cycles:
(1) His first recording for Westminster is excerpted in the 3-LP set "Prodigy and Genius: Barenboim and Beethoven." One copy is currently available on eBay.
(2) At the age of 24 he signed a contract with EMI to record his second cycle (1966/69), and it appeared on quality vinyl in a 1970 boxed set, used copies of which can still be found by those who seek to do so. Earlier this year, EMI re-released the cycle on CD, in a significantly better mastering than the previous 1998 CD release.
(3) Metropolitan Video produced and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle directed a third cycle in various acoustically excellent and photogenic settings from 1981 to 1984, and DGG released the soundtrack on audio cassette, "digital LP" and CD (the cover photograph shows Barenboim in the same venue as the video). The whole thing appeared in a series of ten PAL laserdiscs in the UK, and two of the sonatas from this series (Appassionata and Waldstein) appeared on Teldec Warner laserdisc in the US and Japan. Now Euroarts is releasing this series in a triple blu-ray set.
(4) Barenboim performed a complete cycle in a series of concerts at the Staatsoper in Berlin in June and July of 2005. EMI released the DVD and Decca the CD of these performances. The DVD is accompanied by masterclasses, but the sonatas are a little hard to locate because the concerts did not present them in numerical order.
Barenboim's first two cycles were prodigious, and the last one is impressive, but the third captures him at the peak of his powers. The third one now comes to us in a high-resolution audio and video transfer. Like Euroarts/Metropolitan's release of the eight last Mozart piano concertos, the complete Beethoven sonata cycle promises better sound than ever before, but compromised video quality. I gave five stars to the Mozart because the BD had better sonics than the very fine laserdisc release, and that is likely to be true again in this case. However, I objected to the "masking" of the image, in effect zooming in on the old film stock to fill the 16:9 TV screen. Unfortunately, the producers have done this again, creating jumpy motion for fingers playing on the keys. What is to be done? Use the zoom feature on your player to zoom back out again, creating a black frame all the way around the image. Then the jerky motion disappears.
Like the earlier release, there is very generous timing again. Some 724 minutes (twelve hours) of programming which spread out over ten laserdiscs now finds itself inhabiting just three blu-rays. In addition to the sonatas (714 minutes), there is a ten-minute bio called "Portrait eines Musikers" (Portrait of a Musician), which also appeared on the first of the ten laserdiscs.
In recent years I have become a fan of the fortepiano recordings of Beethoven's sonatas, particularly the SACD set by Ronald Brautigam on BIS. Barenboim's blu-ray set, recorded on the grand piano, will complement that series nicely on my shelf. I reserve the right to revise or extend my remarks upon further enjoyment of this embarrassment of riches.
P.S. (8 December 2012):
My copy of the set finally arrived only today. Amazon seems to have run out of copies before the pre-orders were filled. That is a worrying precedent. I was gratified to discover that, although the film has been matted for widescreen TVs, there happens be very little fast-action finger-work on screen. Director Ponnelle lingers over the walls and furnishings a lot, and frequently focuses on Barenboim's face or a general shot of the whole grand piano. Consequently, there is hardly any motion-blurring.