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A Survey of Mozart Piano Sonata Cycles

An Index of ionarts Discographies


12/06/2023: I am keeping my eye on developing sontata cycles (Orli Shaham, Angela Hewitt, Jean Muller, Michael Wessel, Christopher Berensen et al.. Meanwhile, Peter Donohoe's (Somm) cycle has reached volume 6 and thus its end - and I have added Yeol Eum Son's (Naïve) cycle. I have also discovered a cycle by Yasuko Tomada on Alm Records / Kojima Recordings, out in Japan and at least on volume 6. There are new re-releases of the cycels by Clara Würtz and Glenn Gould. They have been added.

10/07/2022: It's been a while since the last update. Here are some of the additions: New cycles from Mao Fujita, Elisabeth Leonskaja, and Robert Levin. Newly released as a box: Kristian Bezuidenhout. New re-issues of Barenboim I and Lubimov. Michael Wessel seems to be working on a cycle for Ars, ditto Orli Shaham on Canari Classics and Angela Hewitt has started with Mozart for Hyperion. I'll add those once they have developed more widely. This is all v. much a work in progress. If you have comments, it is easiest to hit me up on Twitter @ClassicalCritic.

09/11/2019: Roberto Prosseda's Fazioli-cycle on Decca (Italy) has been added to the survey.

04/07/2019: Paul Badura-Skoda's first set (on modern instruments) has been re-issued by Sony and is now available again.

01/09/2019: It would appear that Chen; Pi-hsien (long on the faculty of the Cologne and Freiburg conservatories where she focused on modern and contemporary music) has recorded a cycle. (Thanks to Fred from the comment section!) I'm looking into it and will add more information as I get it.

08/22/2018: William Youn's cycle has since been finished with volume 5 and already released in boxed form, too. It shoots to the top of the recommendation list, as expected. If you want to sample one volume only, make it Volume 4. Also, having finally listened to it, Christian Zacharias gets an "ionarts' choice" recommendation - but only in one of the original releases. One hopes that if it should ever be re-released, the people at Warner might undo the damage of ordering the sonatas by key, which makes for tedious listening, even with a cycle played with such a light and imaginary touch as Zacharias'.

03/26/2017: True, Alfred Brendel didn't record a complete set, but really, he's come closer than some others included in this survey. Since it's recently been issued as a set, that merits inclusion.

03/22/2017: Clara Sverner has been added.

03/18/2017: Finished, at last! At least as far as my database goes.

02/20/2016: Updated from Walter Klien to Vlado Perlemutter. Alphabetical banners added for easier navigation.

02/11/2016: Pianists A through J are finished... the rest, from Walter Klien to Christian Zacharias, will be added over the next weeks.

01/29/2016: There are several new discographic entries under work. Mahler Symphony Cycles, almost obviously. Ditto Nielsen and Martinů as well as Bartók and Shostakovich String Quartet cycles. They just take so much darn time and even then they are rarely complete or mistake-free. Neither will this one be, and every such post is also a plea to generously inclined readers with more information and knowledge of the subject than I have to lend a helping hand correcting my mistakes or filling data-lacunae. (I.e. will Yuko Hisamoto’s begun cycle be finished? Are there new, available editions of formerly hard-to-find sets?) I am grateful for any such pointers, hinters, and corrections.

Commentary on individual releases, where available, on mouse-over.

Because I lack consistent data for when these cycles were recorded (I need the date of the earliest and the last included recording), I will list the sets alphabetically for now. As (or if) I gather enough information, I will want to set it up chronologically. Else I hope that only pianists whose name begins with "Z" are recording any new sets. ☺ (William Youn almost gets that right!)

Like the Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycle Survey, this is a mere inventory of what has been recorded and whether it is still available. Favorites are denoted with the "ionarts' choice" graphic. Also like the Beethoven Survey but unlike most of the other symphony-cycle-surveys among the ionarts-discographies, this survey actually is meant to be exhaustive and cover all issues, not just those that are available or have at some point made it onto CD. Unlike with earlier surveys, I will give each (meaningful) iteration of a cycle its own space, rather than listing only to the most recent re-issue. This is partly because with cycles going in and out of print, more than one may be available, depending on your location prices might differ, and perhaps most of all so that we can marvel at the covers and how they have evolved. (And remember: Ah, this is the one I have.) If cycles of one pianist are not given a differing roman numeral, then they are identical to all those that share that (lack of) numeral, even if they are on entirely different labels.


REsound Beethoven & Schubert/Liszt and Lisa Larsson's "Ah Perfido" Revelation

It’s the mantra of the Vienna Academy Orchestra’s REsound Project that for an approximation of an original sound and originalesque experience, not just instruments and bows and strings need to be authentic or historical, but that the rooms and their acoustic influence the performance as much, if not more. As such, each of the REsound concerts of the VAO are tests of that theory and are, in their way, …resounding confirmations of that theory.

The Beethoven Ninth in the comparatively vast Redoutensaal (reviewed on Forbes: Vienna: Premiering Beethoven Symphonies All Over Again) gave an element of lively chaos and struggle. The large Hall of the Academy of Sciences proved an ideally suited mix of intimacy and space for Schubert’s Ninth to blossom in a particularly well-played concert (reviewed on Forbes: Beethoven And Schubert Almost On Original Location: A REsounding Success).The Theater an der Wien, meanwhile, is no longer the old venue it was in Beethoven’s time and it did not lend itself to the program the VAO performed there (Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony and the Violin Concerto) by sucking up the sound. The tiny Eroica Hall of the Palais Lobkowitz meanwhile offered an in-your-face exciting, direct concert of the symphony that has since given the hall its name.

And now, at the Palais Niederösterreich, the historical Estates House of Lower Austria in downtown Vienna (and seat of the Lower Austrian government until 1997), in the ornate, renovated, 3700ft² Hall of the State Diet, turned out rather an ideally suited place again, much like the Hall of the Academy of Sciences. Now the Palais Niederösterreich’s grand hall with its vast ceiling fresco on the wooden dropped ceiling may not be where any of the works on this program of the VAO were premiered – or even ever performed during their lifetime (though Beethoven’s First Symphony was), but the music feels right at home in this hall, which is not surprising, because this is exactly the kind of place such music was performed in (and written for), until purpose-built, dedicated concert halls became the norm.

available at Amazon

L.v.Beethoven, Sy. #7, Wellington's Victory,
REsound Cycle v.2
Vienna Academy Orchestra / M.Haselböck

available at Amazon

L.v.Beethoven, Egmont, Consecration of the House Ovt.,
REsound Cycle v.3
Vienna Academy Orchestra / M.Haselböck / John Malkovich

The natural, benevolent and reasonably reverb-rich acoustic made the coordinated and very nicely playing Vienna Academy Orchestra shine and glow. That helped in the opening Schubert Overture in the Italian Style, D.591, a little number Schubert had tossed off recently in Grinzing[1] – which had just the right lightness to not pretend being more than it is, and just the panache to prevent us from questioning whether it really is just that: a charming firecracker to go off before the main musical courses were served.

Those consisted of the Eroica Symphony in the second half, now liberated from its premiere-location and played to an audience of ~300, rather than an economically unsustainable eighty. The REsound recording project wants, where possible, to tape these symphonies in these premiere spaces for a complete symphony cycle, which makes sense – although a recording of this earlier performance from the Eroica Hall did not manage to capture the raw energy of the event and sounds strangely off; the only dud among the lot so far. If the REsound cycle ever becomes a complete set, how nice would it be if that Eroica could be re-recorded. This latest performance from February 19th[2], granted not in the most authentic setting possible, would have done nicely:

Bang! Bang! The opening induced a few skipped heartbeats in the still chatty and then immediately silent audience… But loud’n’quick wasn’t this interpretation’s principal MO or quality. More importantly it was the separation of the music that became obvious in this setting: For one there’s a carpet of strings, with chamber-music-like wind and brass band making the music above it. Then there are brief movements of a real tutti, which stand out as such. There’s a bit of trading back and forth of musical bits, and there are connecting, story-advancing passages just for the strings. It makes you appreciate how the music was constructed and it makes you glimpse how this music may have been perceived at the time. It certainly differs considerably from a modern orchestra, where the non-string instruments are much more homogenously embedded and everything sounds more or less like a grand, continuous tutti-section. The symphony’s funeral march – as measured by the would-be ball bearer’s steps – was perfectly doable; not carrying the coffin for any longer than necessary but also not in a rush to the grave. In any case, tempo is subjective and it is dependent on space, not just time, and it felt right. And really, it is not actually a funeral march, it is only a middle movement in a symphony with the tempo indication: “Very much at ease” – Adagio assai. The gorgeous oboe part was played particularly superbly.

If this wasn’t the highlight, it was thanks to Lisa Larsson. Two songs of Schubert’s orchestrated by Franz Liszt (“Lied der Mignon” and “Gretchen am Spinnrade”) became operatic adventures. Lisa Larsson, in the golden autumn days of her career, sings with all the expressive beauty of a life in music (and outside) lived. Efficiency and skill enabled her to navigate the songs where the remaining raw material of her voice alone may not provide her that support. She soared – yes, perhaps on fumes, but also amber ether – and made herself heard just the same. Schubert and Liszt both being specialties of the orchestra and conductor Martin Haselböck, probably also helped to make this come together so very harmoniously. That was still before the half; Lisa Larsson came back for more – and the real corker of the evening – in the second: “Ah perfido”, the stalwart Beethoven concert aria, taken at a rapid clip, became an electric aria with a punch, rather than an elegiac grand celebratory affair. A wonderful surprise to hear a revered and slightly boring work so having blown the cobwebs off.

[1] Allegedly a dare on Rossini’s overtures: “I can do that” – and so he did.
[2] The second of two and a matinee -- which didn’t, however, work against it.


For Your Consideration: À bout de souffle

Jean-Luc Godards's first full-length feature, À bout de souffle, was released as Breathless in the U.S. in 1961. Hitting the theaters a year after François Truffaut's Les 400 Coups and Alain Resnais's Hiroshima, Mon Amour, it helped launch the French film movement known as La Nouvelle Vague. François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol created the screen treatment, loosely basing the story on a newspaper article that Truffaut read about a man named Michel Portail and his American girlfriend Beverly Lynette. In 1952 Portail had stolen a car in order to be able to visit his ailing mother in Le Havre, killing a motorcycle policeman who tried to stop him. When the film did not work out for Truffaut and Chabrol, they gave it to Godard.

Godard changed the story significantly, reportedly writing the script scene by scene and then feeding the lines to the actors only shortly before each scene was shot, often prompting them as they shot. Seeking the gritty look of a documentary, Godard asked cinematographer Raoul Coutard to shoot the entire film on a hand-held camera, with next to no lighting. Working on a shoestring budget that made a camera dolly far too expensive, Godard pushed Coutard around in a wheelchair in the tracking shots.

The noisiness of the camera and the sound of Godard's prompting meant that most of the of the dialogue had to be dubbed in post-production, something that non-French speakers often miss because they are reading the subtitles. The interview scene at Orly Airport, featuring Jean Parvulesco (a journalist who had written articles on the Nouvelle Vague early on, played by Jean-Pierre Melville), shows exactly the sort of camera used in the film. Supposedly in response to a demand to shorten the film, Godard cut out many small sections of scenes, leading to an effect known as the jump cut.

The crew filmed entirely on location, instead of in studios as was the practice at the time, mostly on the streets of Paris in August and September 1959. People walking by the characters in crowd scenes are often seen looking back at them, curious about what's going on. Footage of presidential motorcades going down the Boulevard des Champs-Élysées is from the actual visit of President Eisenhower to Paris, where he met with General De Gaulle and spoke to the NATO council that September, a happy coincidence.

Godard shot most of the scenes in chronological order, except for the opening sequence, where Michel steals a car in Marseille and drives along R.N. 7 to Paris, which was shot last. The interior scenes were shot in rooms at the Hôtel de Suède, on the Quai St-Michel in the 5th. One can only assume that he arranged with business owners to have messages about the impending arrest of Michel Poiccard flashing on the news tickers as he shot along the Boulevard Saint-Germain. The magical moment, when Michel is standing by the car and the lights come on in the dusk of the Boulevard des Champs-Élysées, must have been carefully timed.

The Orly interview scene is only one of several meta-references in the film. Jean Seberg, an American actress who had lived in France part of her life, got her start in Otto Preminger's Saint Joan a few years before Breathless, when she was not yet 18. It was a flop, but Preminger still cast her in Bonjour, Tristesse, and Godard gave her an even bigger lift with the role of Patricia Franchini in Breathless. When Patricia ducks into a theater, trying to lose a detective tailing her, the movie playing is Otto Preminger's Whirlpool , released in 1950, a film noir about a woman, married to a famous psychoanalyst, who is arrested for shoplifting.

Patricia ditches the detective, and then Michel and Patricia go to another theater to see Westbound together, a Western with Randolph Scott and Virginia Mayo. At one point a young girl tries to get Michel to buy a copy of Cahiers du cinéma, the publication that both Truffaut and Godard started out writing reviews for. La Nouvelle Vague, as one critic put it, is cinema made by cinephiles. Godard even gives himself a significant cameo, as the nosy, pipe-smoking man who recognizes Michel's picture in France Soir and snitches on him to the cops nearby.

Another unseen but iconic aspect to the movie is the jazzy soundtrack by jazz pianist Martial Solal. He was a French citizen born in Algeria, the son of an opera singer and a piano teacher, and it was his only collaboration with Godard. He must be the one we hear furiously practicing tedious Hanon exercises on the piano at one point, something he must have heard a lot at home. Solal got his start playing the piano for American GIs in Morocco during WWII, and he wrote several film scores, this one being the most famous. You can get a feel for his style of improvisation from the clip embedded below, a take on Bronisław Kaper's song On Green Dolphin Street, made famous in a version by Miles Davis.

CD Review: Beauty Farm

Charles T. Downey, Classical recordings: early voices in new lights
Washington Post, March 10

available at Amazon
N. Gombert, Motets, Vol. 2, Beauty Farm

(released on January 20, 2017)
Fra Bernardo FB1612457 | 113'13"

available at Amazon
J. Ockeghem, Masses, Beauty Farm

(released on February 17, 2017)
Fra Bernardo FB1701743 | 62'10"
New early-music ensembles appear on the scene with alarming frequency. One of the newest and most exciting is Beauty Farm, a sextet of male singers from Germany and Belgium based in the cultural center at the former Carthusian monastery of Mauerbach, Austria. The group, formed in 2014 by members of leading early-music vocal ensembles, is devoted to the rarefied repertory of Franco-Flemish polyphony of the Renaissance. Renaissance music is a specialized repertory; thus this most complex contrapuntal music is a niche within a niche.

The group has released two new sets this year, beginning with the second volume of its collection devoted to the motets of Nicolas Gombert (c. 1495-1560). A student of Josquin des Prez, Gombert wrote in a style that represents the height of polyphonic complexity. Although he was extremely prolific, composing steadily except when he was punished for sexual contact with a boy in the emperor’s service, much of his music remains unexplored, and these discs include many pieces being recorded for the first time. Not only because of this, they rank with the best examples of the Gombert discography by such groups as the Hilliard Ensemble, Tallis Scholars and Stile Antico.

The 17 Latin motets on these two discs represent only about one-tenth of the motets Gombert produced, and that doesn’t include his settings of the Mass, Magnificat and secular songs. All of the motets here are written for five or six voices, making the texture thicker than modern ears are generally accustomed to hearing. The disc was recorded in the Mauerbach monastery, where this sort of polyphony would have been far too ornate for the Carthusian monks, and the extremely live acoustic clothes the voices in a long ring of sound. In the moments of silence before and after some tracks, you can hear birds singing.

The ensemble has to pitch these pieces quite low so that the top part isn’t out of range for the countertenor, Bart Uvyn. Even so, he is pushed into unpleasant sounds here and there, and the bass, Joachim Höchbauer, has to descend far into the basement, as low as C# below the staff. Only one odd moment occurs, at the pause between the two halves of “Da pacem Domine,” a jarring shift of tonality that draws attention to the juxtaposition of two different transpositions in this piece (the prima pars ending on F and the secunda pars on E).

For its most recent disc, released in February, Beauty Farm went back to the Masses of Johannes Ockeghem (c. 1410-1497). Probably the teacher of Josquin des Prez, Ockeghem takes us back from more conventional imitative counterpart to the complex world of prolation canons and other musical puzzles. Both masses included here, however, belie Ockeghem’s reputation as a forbidding contrapuntist. They have been recorded before, but Beauty Farm has made beautiful versions.

The “Missa L’homme armé,” for four male voices, is one of many settings of the Latin Mass based on this famous French tune, and one of the most ingenious. Ockeghem quotes the tune in various voice parts throughout the work, and this recording allows the familiar parts of the tune to pop out of the overall texture. Because the part carrying the cantus firmus moves lower in pitch through transposition, the “Agnus Dei” movement sits quite low, which flatters the group’s attractive lower voices. That extension of the lower range, scholars agree, is one of the main innovations of Ockeghem’s style.

The “Missa quinti toni,” set in a bright modal area, is an attractive setting of the Mass for just three voices. Here Ockeghem, seemingly writing for three confident singers with wide vocal ranges, keeps the texture uniform and varies the mensuration, or rhythmic organization, almost not at all. The focus, then, is on the beauty of the voices, each more or less isolated in its own unique range, without the proliferation of voices heard later in Gombert.


Washington Ballet's 'Giselle' from Julie Kent

Giselle, The Washington Ballet (photo by media4artists, Theo Kossenas)

We have covered the performances of Washington Ballet here and there over the years. The increasing lack of live music in recent years, as well as the preference of former director Septime Webre for theater-hybrid productions over classical ballet, often put them low on my list. At the beginning of this season Julie Kent took over as the company's director, joined by her husband, Victor Barbee, who also left American Ballet Theater to come to Washington as associate artistic director. So far this season Kent has led the company’s anniversary performance and slightly tweaked the beloved Septime Webre Nutcracker. The current production is the couple's restaging of the classic Marius Petipa choreography of Giselle, seen on Friday night in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater.

Kent, who was born in Bethesda and once studied at the Academy of the Maryland Youth Ballet, has said that she aims to take Washington Ballet in a more traditional, classical direction, including performing whenever possible with a live orchestra. She has done both in this elegant Giselle, last performed in 2013. She has imprinted her experience dancing the title role on one of the three new dancers hired since her arrival, Korea's EunWon Lee, and she invited Charles Barker, principal conductor of American Ballet Theater, to conduct the small but mostly refined Washington Ballet Orchestra in the pit. Neither was the best we have seen or heard in this ballet in recent years -- the history includes Svetlana Zakharova with the Bolshoi, Aurélie Dupont with the Ballet de l'Opéra de Paris, and Diana Vishneva with the Mariinsky Ballet -- but the future is indeed bright for Washington Ballet in the Julie Kent era.

EunWon Lee was beautiful in the title role, frail and girlish in the first act and a chilling, emotionless specter in the second. In the eerie ballet blanc of the second act, she was ethereal, seeming to appear briefly in the eye of her distraught Albrecht, Brooklyn Mack, and then vanish again. When he was able to catch hold of her, she looked incorporeal, like a mysterious fog that trailed after in wisps. Her poise and stillness in the full lifts, a sign of Mack's impressive strength, were extraordinary. Mack excelled in high leaps, strength and agility trumping sensitivity, but small touches in his gestures made his anguish at the ends of both acts quite touching.

Other Reviews:

Sarah L. Kaufman, Washington Ballet’s ‘Giselle’ marks company’s transformation (Washington Post, March 3)

Alastair Macaulay, Review: ‘Giselle’ Bounds With Experience (New York Times, March 3)
Francesca Dugarte was an imperious Myrta, dominating the corps de ballet in the second act as Queen of the Wilis, with excellent supporting dances from Nicole Graniero and Stephanie Sorota. Corey Landolt was a strong and angry Hilarion, the huntsman who unmasks the deceitful prince, Albrecht. The corps de ballet danced with remarkable precision in the second act, the heart of this ballet, which included the whipping away of their veils by hidden cords (also seen in the Giselle from Paris).

The orchestra was stripped down to chamber size (6-4-3-3-2 in the strings, and with only two of the four horns and two of the three trombones indicated in the score by Adolphe Adam) and had a few insecurities, but by and large produced a lovely sound, guided expertly by Barker at the podium. The viola solo in the Act II Grand Pas de Deux was especially fine, a moment of musical wonder, presumably played by principal musician Julius Wirth.

Washington Ballet's Giselle runs through March 5, at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater.