I like to think of music as language. And I'd like my students to have the opportunity to hear and feel music at least as closely as a second language; closer perhaps, since there are no words!
A lifetime of listening to music has helped me to enjoy it as I do. So I thought a list of recommended recordings and artists might help my students and their parents find some of the music that's "spoken" to me over the years.
Unlike practicing, which must be organized and disciplined, this listening is just for enjoyment, though it can lead to thinking, enthusiasm, mellowness (depending on the music at hand!) and increased appreciation for the arts. It can become part of the atmosphere of your home. And, especially if a child has not yet "learned" that classical music is "boring", a parent's interest can send a signal to a child that it may be something worthwhile.
To keep to a reasonable length I'm limiting these lists to classical piano recordings. Perhaps another time I'll write something about the glories of the chamber and symphonic repertoire. But the piano repertoire, fortunately, is huge, and one can spend one's whole life hearing and learning new things.
I'll divide the remainder of this paper into three sections:
1) Comments on the Phillips Great Pianists of the 20th Century Collection,
2) A list of pianists from different eras with remarks about them, and (usually) a list of some of their recordings,
3) A list of great composers and some of the pianists who (in my opinion) play their music exceptionally well.
The Phillips Great Pianists of the 20th Century Collection
This is a large, and necessarily, controversial project. Like most other pianists I'm surprised that certain pianists were included and outraged that others were left out, baffled that there is only one disk of Rachmaninoff while there are two and three disks of lesser artists, etc. But it has made a great deal of music by important pianists available and I'm glad that it exists.
By the way, the recordings of older artists have less modern sound and ambiance than more recent ones, but to me a great performance outweighs these considerations.
I would recommend interest in the recordings featuring the following artists:
Josef and Rosina Lhevinne, Jorge Bolet, Leon Fleisher, Benno Moiseiwitsch, Dame Myra Hess and Shura Cherkassky, among others.
Recommended Pianists (in alphabetical order)
Adrian Aeschbacher (1912-2002) Great pianist, especially for Schubert and Schumann.
Emmanuel Ax — One of the finest pianists of his generation. Any of his recordings would be worth having.
Jorge Bolet (1914-1990). Wonderful Romantic virtuoso who could also play Classical repertoire (ie. Beethoven) well.
The recording of his Carnegie Hall recital of February 25th, 1974, available on the Phillips Great Pianist series, is a great find, with music of Bach, Chopin, and brilliant Romantic transcriptions.
Shura Cherkassky (1909-1995) A wonderful, brilliant eccentric with a gorgeous tone who excelled in romantic repertoire.
Tchaikovsky Concertos Nos. 1 and 2. DGG 457 751-2
Edwin Fischer (1886-1960) Profound Swiss pianist who excelled in the music of Bach.
Ignaz Friedman (1882-1948). One of the very greatest Chopin interpreters.
Mendelssohn Songs Without Words and works of Chopin, including absolutely the greatest recording of Mazurkas I've ever heard! Biddulph LHW 044
Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965). A beloved artist, known for her performances of Beethoven, Mozart and others. Also an English national heroine who kept the National Gallery concert series in London going during World War II.
University of Illinois Recital of 1949-Terrific concert with music by Chopin, Schubert, Scarlatti and Brahms. APR 5520
Josef Hofmann (1876-1957). Considered one of the most brilliant pianists ever.
Golden Jubilee Recital at the Metropolitan Opera (1937) A very famous concert which commemorated his debut there as a child prodigy in 1887. VAIA/IPA 1020
Chopin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2. Outstanding performances. VAIA/IPA 1002
Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989). Also one of the all-time greats, who probably played the music of Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Scriabin as well as anyone ever did.
Encore Pieces-Moszkowski: Etincelles, Sousa-Horowitz: Stars and Stripes Forever, Bizet-Horowitz; Carmen Variations.RCA Victor 7755-2-RG.
Sonatas of Prokofiev, Barber and Kabalevsky RCA Victor 60377-2-RG.
Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1 with Toscanini and Orchestra, Mussorgsky-Pictures At an Exhibition RCA Victor 60321-2-RG.
Miecyzslaw Horszowski (1892-1993). Wonderful artist, known for his performances of Classical repertoire. I heard him at age 96 play a Bach English Suite that was thrilling for Bach's greatness, but also for Horszowski's ability to make one realize its greatness.
Bach: English Suite No. 5, Nocturnes of Chopin and Beethoven Sonata Op. 10, No.2 Elektra Nonesuch 9 79232-2
Bruce Hungerford (1922-1977). One of the finest pianists of the 20th century, though he's not in the Phillips series. He was just starting to develop a more significant reputation when he died in an auto accident. It's hard to imagine better performances of the music of Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Chopin than those found in the 4 disk album listed here. Everyone should have it. He was also one of my teachers.
The Legendary Hungerford Vanguard SV 76/79, numerous releases on the Vanguard Classics label.
Donald Isler — You may have heard of him.
Music of Beethoven and Artur Schnabel (see below) KASP 57571
Music of Schubert and Spohr (a major 19th century composer) KASP 57591
Three major late works of Beethoven KASP 57611
Music of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms KASP 57651
Josef Lhevinne (1874-1944) and his wife, Rosina Lhevinne (1880-1976). Josef Lhevinne was one of the finest virtuosos of his generation and his wife was a very famous teacher at the Juilliard School. She also made some very fine recordings at the age of 80.
Rosina Lhevinne playing Chopin Concert No. 1 and the Overture, Scherzo and Finale of Schumann Vanguard SV 60
Murray Perahia — Excellent pianist, especially for Mozart and Mendelssohn.
Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943). One of the all-time greatest pianists, and the only one on this list who was also a major composer of piano repertoire. Get anything by him!
Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982). His recitals (which continued till age 89) were always a highlight of my year. A wonderful artist, especially for Chopin. There are lots of recordings of him, including a new 94 disk album of his entire recorded output! His recordings of the Chopin Concertos are terrific.
Artur Schnabel (1882-1951). An extremely important artist, especially for music of Beethoven and Schubert. Though his fast movements are sometimes a bit rushed, he almost always gets the spirit of the music right, and the profundity of his slow movements is often breathtaking. Also a rather neglected composer.
Mozart: Rondo and Sonata, music of Brahms and Weber. APR 5526
Mitsuko Uchida — Wonderful Japanese pianist. Her interpretation of Mozart Concertos are among the finest I've ever heard.
Earl Wild — Brilliant American virtuoso, who performed till he was 90! Virtuoso Transcriptions of music of Strauss, Bach, Kreisler, Chopin, Tchaikovsky SK 62036
List of composers and some of their best interpreters:
Edwin Fischer, sometimes Glenn Gould (especially for the Goldberg Variations)
Schnabel and Hungerford. For my taste, no one else comes up to their level.
Cortot, Rubinstein, Friedman, Hofmann
Uchida, Perahia, Schnabel
Schnabel, Hungerford, Aeschbacher