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Beethoven: Complete Piano Sonatas

Louis Lortie Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
Price: CDN$ 57.63 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Louis Lortie, piano

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5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous Playing and SOUND from Louis Lortie Sept. 4 2013
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
This set is my TENTH complete Beethoven Sonata collection. Each collection rewards the listener with a different perspective on the greatest set of sonatas ever written. At times, in some collections, one feels as if Beethoven himself is listening and cheering the performance. This is particularly true of this Chandos set by Canadian Louis Lortie. The performances and recorded sound are gorgeous and one feels that Beethoven would rave about these. Attention is never drawn to the performer. There is nothing way off the wall yet at the end you say to yourself "HOORAY for Ludwig ... what amazing compositions!!!"
Even if you have sets by Barenboim, Ashkenazy, Paul Lewis, Kempff, Goodyear, Bredel etc.etc etc, get this set from Louis Lortie and listen to the true piano sound and pure Beethoven which emerges with such truth from your speakers. Highly recommended.
If I had any quibbles, I wish Chandos had printed the contents of each sleeve on the sleeve. I know one can refer to the booklet but I'm lazy!
Here's another interesting feature. I have the edition imported from England and the booklet is totally ENGLISH ... no French (Louis is French-Canadian) or German. Veryyyyyyyy Interestingggggg!!!
(In the opus 6 for four hands, Helene Mercier joins Lortie. From the photo in the booklet one can only wish to see her play in person!)
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beethoven in living color June 23 2011
By garoldovich - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
The Beethoven piano sonatas are made out of such sturdy stuff that they can withstand and even thrive under vastly differing approaches. No single artist, however insightful his interpretations, can say everything this music has to say. What is absolutely required, however, when playing these sonatas is a sense of color and "orchestration." Beethoven's symphonies and other orchestral works light the way to the composer's marvelous conceptions of sounds, which carried over also into his piano works. What other composer has so thoroughly exploited the various registers of the pianoforte? Beethoven growls, rumbles, and thunders in the low registers, sings in the middle, and shimmers, twinkles, and quivers in the high. Any performance of the sonatas that slights on the innate variegation of these works will not reveal in due measure the complexity of the composer's soul.

Louis Lortie well understands all this. His are highly colored performances, almost orchestral in their range of sounds. Lortie always remains within the bounds of refinement. His sense of sonority is unerring. Unlike some interpreters of these works, he always manages to "play through" Beethoven's dense textures. He never produces ugly loud sounds or distorted rubato in the name of passion. Yet his boundaries of good taste are sufficiently wide for a high degree of expressivity, if you just listen to him on his own terms. This is by no means cold or detached playing. Although not as impetuous as, for example, a Gulda, or as "heart-on-sleeve" as, say, a Gilels or Richter, Lortie plumbs the depths of these works. Those who think that only a clangorous approach to Beethoven is authentic should bear in mind how many of the composer's directions to performers include the words "molto espressivo" or "cantabile" ("sehr singbar"). Those who think that faster is always better should keep in view the many times Beethoven adds the cautionary "ma non troppo" to his "allegro" or "vivace."

Not that Lortie plays particularly slowly; when required he can out-blitz the best of them. The Prestissimo of Op. 2 no. 1 he actually plays faster than the speed-demon Gulda (allowing for Lortie's observance of the second repeat, which Gulda ignores), and just as cleanly; yet, unlike Gulda, still finds the innate lyricism. While Gulda seems not to have seen the words "ma non" in the directions of the last movement of the Appassionata, and accordingly is doomed to falter in his breakneck momentum, Lortie's slower tempo keeps the passion burning with the intensity of a controlled fire. I would have liked a brisker first movement of the Waldstein--here Gulda's blistering tempo works really well--but that is a matter of taste. While in the Rondo of the Waldstein many pianists level out the contrasts between the ultra-calm, contemplative theme, its triumphant restatement, and the boisterous "B" section, Lortie lets them all have their full way without trying to resolve their contradictions, thus revealing to the listener something of the composer's complex inner world. Can anyone really bring a fresh current into the overplayed "Pathetique" sonata? In my judgment, Lortie has. His first movement becomes almost operatic in its intensity. The second theme of the exposition he plays more slowly and lyrically; one almost hears the exchange in Italian between the soprano and baritone. This serves to heighten the triumphant effect of the closing theme. Some may feel that he thereby sacrifices intensity, but there are scores of other renditions out there that do it their way.

Lortie's general approach works remarkably well in the early sonatas. His Op. 2 no. 3 is a delight. In the hands of some pianists it sounds like a trifle, but Lortie opens our ears to depths of expression for which Beethoven was just beginning to find a personal musical voice. The slow movement in particular foreshadows the drama and mysticism that would so characterize the late sonatas. Lortie's renditions of the middle-period sonatas, though also wonderful, are not as remarkable, but there's not a dull moment in any of them. I particularly delight in the slow movement of Op. 31 no 1, where one can hear almost hear the orchestra or ensemble that may have been sounding inside Beethoven's head. This movement isn't quite the inconsequential fluff that many artists seem to think, judging by their perfunctory run-throughs.

The late sonatas are a marvel in Lortie's hands. His Hammerklavier is not the most driving I have ever head, but neither is it raucous. By comparison, it seems that many pianists stress the "hammer" in "Hammerklavier" and pound this music senseless. Lortie on the other hand seems to find its many affinities with the final three sonatas in their lyricism and mysticism. Not that he plays it without power when required. Better than most, he holds this sprawling work together. His Op. 109 has to be one of the best on disc. A benchmark is the final variation of the last movement, the "trill" variation, whose mechanical difficulties are seldom overcome by even the best technicians to the extent that the music is allowed to break free to its exultant heights. Here Lortie comes closest of any recording I know to soaring beyond the confines of the keys.

If there's any justice, Lortie's cycle of Beethoven sonatas will eventually take its place with the greatest of them. I have listened to these over and over since purchasing them, comparing individual renditions of his with others. Each time I gain a new awe of both composer and pianist. I have a number of complete cycles on disc, as well as performances by various artists of individual sonatas. I couldn't live alone with Schnabel--the sound is too poor and the same missed notes and idiosyncrasies over and over would fray the nerves. Arrau's sometimes plodding mannerisms and sometimes muddy textures would produce for me the same effect. Gulda's headlong approach works well sometimes, sometimes not. Barenboim is fine, but seldom revelatory. If forced to keep just one cycle, I would be hard pressed to choose between this set of Lortie and the outstanding cycle by David Allen Wehr on Connoisseur Society. The rest you could talk me out of. These two you would have to fight me for.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb set! April 1 2012
By Lance Friedel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
This as a superb set, perhaps the best of the available complete cycles of Beethoven sonatas. Lortie maintains a remarkably high standard of performance through the whole cycle. He plays with great power and conviction, and without any eccentricities. His articulation is very clear, for instance in Beethoven's "pizzicato" bass passages where the left hand plays short, detached notes while the upper "voices" have a long, sustained melody (Most pianists fudge these to some extent, but with Lortie they are consistently clear). And Lortie always seems to know where he is going, building momentum and intensity over long passages. The lesser-known sonatas receive fine performances here (No.4 is particularly joyous), and the greatest ones do as well. The first movement of the Moonlight (taken slowly) has great atmosphere and intensity, and the Waldstein is resplendent. Indeed, Lortie's Op.101 may be the best I've ever heard. Even the Hammerklavier comes off very convincingly. The layout of the set is perfect, with all the sonatas except No.4 in numerical order, and the opus-number sets like Op.10 and Op.31 together on a CD, and the sound quality is excellent, resonant in the usual Chandos style but with great detail and impact.
That being said, no one pianist can hope to reveal every facet of these amazing masterworks, and good as Lortie's set is, no collector will want to be without the many, many great recordings of individual sonatas (Arrau's Pathetique, Rubinstein's Moonlight, Richter's Tempest, Gilels' Waldstein, Horowitz's Appassionata, etc., etc.). Highly recommended!
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Apollonian Beethoven Nov. 1 2010
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Louis Lortie is a French-Canadian pianist whose playing I know only from his fine recordings of Ravel and Chopin. He is not someone I would have automatically thought of as a born Beethoven player; his playing has seemed too French, i.e. elegant, measured, precise, cool. And indeed those qualities are here in abundance. But the funny thing is that as I listened on and on, and again and again, his approach grew on me. There tend to be, generally speaking, two kinds of Beethoven players: those that take the emotional, rough and ready approach, and those who are rather more gently romantic. Lortie is neither. He is precise, he is emotionally a bit reticent, but when one listens closely one hears nuances, variations in touch and tone and dynamics that bring deeper meaning to the music than precision and reticence ever can. Of course there are the more classically balanced sonatas, say Op. 14, No.1 or Op. 31, No. 1, which many players play as Lortie does, in a classical manner. But what about the more dramatic and emotional sonatas, say the 'Appassionata' or Op. 31, No. 2 ('Tempest'). Well, Lortie doesn't break a sweat nor a piano string, but he gets the message across and in a manner I am finding quite satisfying the more I listen to them.

I am a little disappointed in Op. 106 ('Hammerklavier') in that is really does call for more busting loose than Lortie manages, but this is the only performance that I have any significant reservations about.

Most of these recordings were made in the 1990s and issued separately on Chandos at full price. But a number of the sonatas were recorded in December 2009 (Opp. 54, 57 'Appassionata', 78, 79, 90) and just this past June 2010 (Opp. 109, 110, 111) and issued here for the first time. I imagine I heard greater depth of both musicianship and feeling in these latter recordings. They are still Apollonian, but there is something more complex emotionally than in the earlier recordings. I love the last three sonatas for these reasons, especially in the slow movements. I feel these performances are a real addition to the available sum of Beethoven sonata recordings available.

This would not be anyone first choice for a complete traversal of the 32, nor anyone's only set. And certainly for those who expect more red meat in their Beethoven will want to avoid it. But these are very good performances that deserve to be heard and pondered. The budget price is a real consideration, too.

Scott Morrison
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Broad lucid playing, wonderful set July 14 2012
By Prunehead Guru - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
This is a wonderful set of the 32! A joy on the ears, very little pounding here. This is not "angry" Beethoven, but a poised, lyrical Beethoven, never harsh, but full of fire. Lortie sees each sonata all the way through, not glossing over parts to get to the "virtuoso moment." Beautifully played, beautiful sound. If you have found others in this repertoire to be a bit rough, this may be the set for you! Right up there in my top choices with Kempff, Lewis, Brendel, Frank and Gilels. And Solomon too, if he had completed the 32 on record; in many ways, Lortie's playing and approach remind me of his most of all.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best complete cycle of the new century? Feb. 5 2014
By M. A. Scott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
This is a fine rendition of the Beethoven piano sonatas by Louis Lortie. He plays with great finesse with good tempos in almost all of the 32. This is up there with newer boxed sets of Korstick and Goodyear that have come out in this century. This might beat those two by a smidgeon. It seems like daily there's a new set coming out but I can't purchase all of them because that would cost a bit, but also, I have a lot of sets that go many years back like Fischer, Kempff, Gulda, two by Barenboim, Frank, and Nat that are about as good or better (especially Gulda) than this Lortie set. Even though I gave this Lortie set 5 stars I think that I'm going to be more impressed every time I listen to it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!!!
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