What the world needs more of is intelligently planned, stupendously played, and brilliantly recorded collections like this one. These two discs contain all the piano works of Michael Tippett, works that come from every period of the composer's very long life except his very last. It includes the youthful, tuneful Piano Sonata No. 1 written between 1936 and 1938 and revised in 1941, the massive Fantasia on a Theme of Handel from 1941, the exuberant Piano Concerto from 1955, the experimental Piano Sonata No. 2, the gnomic almost Beethovenian Piano Sonata No. 3 from 1973, and the gnarly post-Beethovenian Piano Sonata No. 4. It features a bravura performance by pianist Steven Osborne that makes the best case for all the music, no matter how outré or recherché its harmonic proclivities or rhythmic audacities. Osborne has the emotional enthusiasm, intellectual clarity, physical strength, and sheer willpower to make listeners believe that Tippett is a major English composer and make them wonder why they ever doubted it. With the superlative accompaniment of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Martyn Brabbins in the Concerto and the Fantasia and the sparkling recording by Andrew Keener for Hyperion, this disc marks a major step forward in the Tippett discography.
The Russian-British pianist Alexander Melnikov has recorded Shostakovich and a variety of Romantic chamber music with great success. But nothing quite prepares the listener for the controlled power in these performances of three Prokofiev piano sonatas. The Piano Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op. 82, and Piano Sonata No. 8 in B flat major, Op. 84, are among the most modernist works Prokofiev ever wrote. They appeared during World War II and are often thought, with some justification, to reflect that environment.
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
Claudio Arrau was past his prime when, in the mid-1980s, he offered these final thoughts on the late sonatas, but he was still a sovereign interpreter, with a sense of line and grasp of form few other exponents of this music have possessed in comparable degree. Where an interpreter like Pollini emphasizes the energy in Beethoven’s writing for the piano, Arrau conveys its mass, giving these sonatas a symphonic treatment.
It's not as if recordings of the 62 Piano Sonatas of Franz Josef Haydn are thick on the ground. Among the relative big names, there's Jeno Jando on Naxos and John McCabe on Decca. Among the less well-known names, there's Walid Akl on Koch Discover, Roland Batik on Camerata, Ronald Brautigam on BIS, Walter Olbertz on Berlin Classics, and Christine Schornsheim on Capriccio. And for those listeners with record players and aging memories, there's also the venerable Hungaroton cycle, the first complete recorded cycle, that coupled relatively well-known Hungarians like Zoltán Kocsis and Dezsö Ránki with nearly unknown Hungarians like János Sebestyén and the inimitable Zsuzsa Pertis.