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Friday, December 3, 2010

Superconductor Holiday Gift Guide Part V: Ten Piano Essentials

I promise. This is the last installment of the gift guide. Hanukkah's already started and Christmas lists are getting filled out. But here's ten great recordings from the archives, and they're not going to break your budget.
Johannes Brahms, determining who's been naughty and who's been nice.
Photo © Bettman/Corbis
I decided for this last installment to focus on piano recordings. These are all single discs or double-disc sets. and these are all outstanding individual performances.

Piano 101: Basic Repertoire

Bach: The Goldberg Variations
Glenn Gould, Piano
The first recording from the legendary, eccentric Canadian pianist is a lightning-fast tour through Bach's set of keyboard variations, that changed the way people listen to the piano.

Chopin: Preludes
Martha Argerich, Piano
The Chopin piano preludes echo the work of Bach, and are written in all the major and minor keys. This is a fine 1975 Argerich performance, and includes a superb reading of the Second Piano Sonata.

Liszt: Opera Transcriptions
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Piano
Transcriptions of Mozart, Verdi and Wagner, played with flash and style by the great French pianist

Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
Sviatoslav Richter, Piano
A legendary recital recorded in Sofia, Bulgaria. The legendary Richter plays 'Pictures' along with music by Schubert, Chopin and Liszt.

Mozart: Four Piano Sonatas
Mitsuko Uchida, Piano
Mozart's piano literature set the standard for everything that followed. Here's four from Mitsuko Uchida's complete cycle, which is also recommended.

Piano 201:
Some "deeper end" stuff, for the advanced listener or for the collector.

Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
Sviatoslav Richter, Piano
Bach's basic workbook for the keyboard, played with expression and Romantic understanding.

Beethoven: Late Piano Sonatas
Maurizio Pollini, Piano
The late sonatas, written during the composer's deafness, break down musical barriers in a way that had never happened before. Pollini's intellectual approach to this music is ideally suited, passionate and yet also considered.

Brahms: Handel Variations
Murray Perahia, Piano
Johannes Brahms took Beethoven's ideas even further. His most entertaining piano works are these epic sets of variations, which require disciplined playing as well as bold technique. Murray Perahia has both to spare in this new recording, which includes the rhapsodies and two sets of piano pieces.


Marc-Andre Hamelin, Piano
And you thought Liszt was hard to play. Hamelin gives a fearless reading of this fiendish Symphony, which gives the puano all the expressive power of an orchestra in full flight.



Debussy: 12 Etudes for Solo Piano
Mitsuko Uchida, Piano
These brilliant, cerebral pieces are at the pinnacle of the repertory. Mitsuko Uchida plays with fleet lyricism and attention to detail.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.