These articles present very detailed reviews of what Gramophone considers the top 50 recordings, and there is much information to be gathered from the reviews.
A careful reader will learn much about the pieces under consideration before listening to a note, and this serves as a very welcome guide. For example:
The big moments do indeed stand out: one of them is the famous exchange of dramatic gestures between piano and orchestra in the development of the E flat Concerto’s first movement (at 10’55”); another the equally dramatic but very different exchange when the piano re-enters at the start of the development in the first movement of the G major Concerto (8’21”).¹
I’ll be listening more carefully at those time points now.
In addition, one may learn something about the performers being reviewed (and others), with the caveat that the opinions expressed are those of the reviewer. Take for example, these comments on pianist Paul Lewis:
True, for aficionados of eccentricity – even of brilliant eccentricity – from the likes of Gould, Pletnev and Mustonen, Lewis may at times seem overly restrained but the rewards of such civilised, musically responsible and vital playing seem to me infinite.¹
And if there are those who, again, wish for a higher degree of drama and assertion, others will recognise an artist who, in Charles Rosen’s words, achieves so much while appearing to do so little (pianists such as Lipatti, Solomon and Clara Haskil come to mind).¹
If you’re new to classical music, the articles provide a good introduction to artist names and key works by Beethoven and Mozart. You might want to look for them when you’re perusing the holdings of your local library, for example.
If you’re starting to establish your likes and dislikes in terms of style, you might use the information in the article to construct, for example, a pianist spectrum, with, one might say, more reserved interpretations toward one end (Lewis, Lipatti, Solomon, and Haskil are noted) and more adventurous interpretations toward the other (Gould, Pletnev, Mustonen are cited). This same exercise can be done for conductors and other performers. So you end up with an Amazon-esque “If you like X, you might also like Y.”
Several recordings may be listed for one piece, which makes it possible to compare and contrast the approaches taken by the different artists. References are also made to earlier recordings, so you end up with more than 50 recordings to choose from.
In the case of the nine Beethoven symphonies and some of Mozart’s operas, the articles also list noteworthy DVD recordings that might be of interest.
The Beethoven article provides links for the purchase of items at Presto Classical, but the recordings are likely to be available at your favorite vendor as well. One may also use the recording information to access the cited works on your favorite streaming service or at your local library.
These articles are a treasure trove of information. They are also fun to read, with passages like:
Krivine knows how to slam a Beethovenian sforzando without breaking glass¹
What can I say after that? I hope you have a great weekend filled with Beethoven and Mozart!
- Gramophone magazine, “The 50 Greatest Beethoven Recordings,” online version, June 8, 2016.
- Gramophone magazine, “The 50 Greatest Mozart Recordings,” online version, May 16, 2016.
Image attribution: Ready-To-Use Classical Music Illustrations by Bob Giuliani. New York: Dover Publications, 1990 p 15.