KASS Music Gem of the Day: Moonlight Sonata

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Wed, 2010-03-17 01:36

Daniel Barenboim with the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, as highlighted by Mr. Donohue in the Richard Goode neither-gems-nor-KASS thread:

Maria Joao Pires

Newberry's picture

My favorite is version is by Maria Joao Pires.

Below is an amazon reviewer's take...which states my thoughts better than I can. Eye

Unfortunately I could not find youtube version with Pires.

Ralph H. Peters (Washington, D.C. area) - See all my reviews
Reviewers write in such hyperbole that words are cheapened. When a genuinely transcendent work of art comes along, our praise uses the same vocabulary as that applied to the latest bit of over-hyped junk. I found this recording hypnotic and unique--an incomparable fusion of mature, wise austerity, impeccable technique, controlled passion, bright intelligence and an almost otherworldly sensitivity enabled by, rather than inhibited by, the artist's self-control. If this sounds contradictory, it's because language won't go the step beyond required to communicate the level of achievement Maria Joao Pires has reached at this point. Like the utterly-different Martha Argerich, she is a transcendent artist, someone who exists in such a perfect union with the music that, upon hearing her recordings, you feel that "this is exactly how the piece was meant to be played and heard and felt." For anyone who believes the "Moonlight" sonata is worn-out, this recording will be a revelation. My only reservation is that I'm not certain young ears will "get it." This is music so incisive that the listener may need a certain experience of life--and of music--to begin to appreciate the quality on offer. Quiet, rigorous, yet rich with passion of the highest order, this is, for me, one of the greatest piano recordings I have ever heard. Stunning.

I just now listened to

John Donohue's picture

I just now listened to Horowitz. Not to my taste inside the traditional mode. I am not a fan of this guy. I even got bored when I saw him in concert once, except when he played the Stars and Stripes Forever.

Definitive? No."Most moving

John Donohue's picture

Definitive? No.

"Most moving I have every heard" and "the finest interpretation i have ever heard" is what I said.

It is the opposite of definitive, as a matter of fact. The traditional approach is the definitive and should be. Barenboim's interpretation is idiosyncratic and I am sure annoying if one is not captivated.

Likewise this, another of my heros Jane Oliver.
I may have already quoted this interpretation, when we were discussin the Chopin FI. If so, sorry.

Sir Donohue

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Realise that I wasn't damning the Barenboim, just questioning whether it is the definitive version you pronounce it to be. It's magic; but occasionally one wants to say, "Get on with it man!" And to the extent one grants legitimacy to his heresy, one must at least consider the possibility that Rubinstein does heresy better.

At the end of the day we shall all like what we like. Like Peter I enjoy the Kempff very much too. (If I'm not mistaken I featured it as a KMGD some time back.) And as I already mentioned, I adore Horowitz's soaring right hand (which Peter I'm sure would find way too sentimental).

I'm just a little worried about Ellen. Eye

Beethoven once said to

Peter's picture

Beethoven once said to Czerny: "„Immer spricht man von der Cis moll-Sonate, ich habe doch wahrhaftig Besseres geschrieben!" ("People are always talking about the cis minor Sonata, surely I've written better things!"


John Donohue's picture

In the hands of these master performers such as Kempff and my hero Artur Rubinstein and certain others such as Murray Perahia, Entremont, Horowitz we have the classical approach wherein the bass is monumental in its constancy of beat, to the point of mesmerization. Above this the melody takes its rhythm in fours, including the rests of course. As many writing here have heard, if the melody line succumbs to the temptation to triplets, we have an awful um-pa-pa band. The proper historical treatment is also to resist rubato.

Lindsay is correct in pointing out Barenboim's departure. Barenboim hears the melody as its own groove. It does not stray into triplets, yet the famous semi-quaver is indeed elongated, so much so that on occasion the bass must falter to accommodate. Heresy! I also agree you can hear Rubinstein accommodate a tip of the hat to this idea, but not very much. He is still traditional.

I do not eschew the traditional and indeed approach it that way myself. I would never allow disturbance in the bass. Within this realm the ability to move the listener is deep within and nuanced.

I just accepted Barenboim's bold foray. His interpretation is actually incorrect! He went off the path. I think he pulls it off. I am in the mood to follow. Its all emotional. I still love the others.

P.S. Rubinstein is also incorrect. In the "flight" near the end he emerges from "piano" to nearly "forte". This cannot be a mistake. Everyone knows you are not supposed to get that loud, it's granstanding. Balls.


Ellen Stuttle's picture

...the performance I considered the best I ever heard of the first movement of the Moonlight was by that guy -- what was his name? David? something that sounds like "Helfgott" (sorry for the fractured spelling, Peter)? There was a movie made about him, many liberties. He gave recitals for awhile, some of which were recorded live.

He did the best job, imo, of playing the top line as if a "moon" sailing above the waters of the lower parts.

Terribly difficult to play the right hand right.

The first movement of the "Moonlight" -- which I'd heard played badly by so many, and which was one of the few pieces by Beethoven I'd ever heard (the others being trivial things) -- was strong among the reasons why I dismissed Beethoven as a "sissy" composer prior to my finding out what a Titan the man was.


PS: I haven't clicked on any of the links. Sorry, can't comment. My ability to deal with youtubes is very limited.

PPS: Of course Beethoven never called the piece "The Moonlight." The image of a moon sailing above troubled waters in the first movement was likely not in his mind at all.

I absolutely love...

Olivia's picture

the slow and tender way Barenboim plays this. Beautiful music should be sentimental.

Too sentimental

Peter's picture

I find Barenboim's version too slow, very sentimental and with much rhythmic unevenness. Although Rubinstein is better, I find his version also disappointing. It's uncharacteristic for him, as he was in general an unsentimental performer with spare use of rubato, so I even wondered if it was really him playing.

Then I prefer for example Wilhelm Kempff:


John Donohue's picture

A-HA! A challenge.

It's 7:48 AM on Wednesday, here in Pasadena, CA

I am staring at 12 hours of intense work today so no quality time to listen.

Will also need a "nap" before meeting the call! Do you have a link to the Horowitz and can you post it. I am going to look for my Unknown Prince of the Keyboard's version too. Will reveal his name later.

Sir John

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I call you that because, Sir, you are a knight. But if I may be allowed the following observation: to me the Barenboim relies heavily on excess slowness, understatement, reticence and rubato: particularly, elongating the G# semi-quaver, the second note, in the main theme. But it's too obvious. It sounds like a contrivance. Here's Rubinstein going for the same effect, only he makes it sound natural, in my book at least. What say ye?

Oh, and Horowitz makes the right hand soar better than either of them. What say ye to *that*?

Love these kinds of discussions!


John Donohue's picture

On listening again: more convinced than ever, the finest interpretation i have ever heard.

I could discuss for hours. Won't. Just click it on again.


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