Now many of the world’s most serious and significant pianists (Schnabel, Serkin, Brendel, Goode, etc.) have devoted a great deal of thoughtful study to the Beethoven sonatas; in general, performance of this music represents a level of erudition and deep contemplation probably unequaled by the works of any other mainstream composer. Serious pianists study every aspect of these works in minute detail; virtually everything is taken into account except those instruments which inspired Beethoven, and which he had in mind when he composed.
Recorded over 13 years between 1975 and 1988, Murray Perahia's cycle of the complete piano concertos of Mozart, including the concert rondos and double concertos, remains perhaps the most enduring monument to his art. What is it about Perahia's art, some skeptics might ask, that is worth enduring? For one thing, as this 12-disc set amply demonstrates, there is his incredible tone. Clear as a bell, bright as the sky, and deep as the ocean, Perahia's tone is not only one of the wonders of the age, it's admirably suited to the pellucid loveliness of Mozart's music.
Recorded live in 1983, Alfred Brendel's third go-round with these works drastically improves on his previous Beethoven concerto cycles. He finds a calmer, more direct route to the Emperor Concerto, although the Fourth's first movement is still pock-marked with finicky phrase adjustments that pull focus from the music's poetic arcs. Levine provides sympathetic and alert support, yet is much more than a mere deferential accompanist.
It's a wonderful treat to find an album whose interest rests equally on its musical as well as historical merits. As such, the present two-disc sets of the complete Rachmaninoff concertos and Paganini Rhapsody cannot be beat. The three pianists heard here – Richter, Zak, and Oborin – represent the pinnacle of postwar Russian pianists. Richter is most likely the one still known to the majority of American listeners. But Zak (who was immensely influential not only as a performer but as a pedagogue) and Oborin (who was the first winner of the Chopin Competition) were recognized equally during their lifetimes. All three had a profound and obvious command of Rachmaninoff, and the performances heard here clearly demonstrate this fact.