Great pianists in their primes

Knowing what you know of the discographies of various Great Pianists, which time periods would you consider to be their respective ‘primes’? By prime I don’t mean at the height of their technical powers, nor do I mean at the height of their expressive capabilities, but rather the period during which all the various facets of their playing was at its highest quality overall.

Obviously for pianists like Schnabel, Richter, Arrau, Rubinstein, etc, we know nothing of their earliest years. Still, for the most part, there is enough info out there to make an informed decision on the subject.

Here’s my list:

Richter (1961 - 1967)
Gilels (1955 - 1965)
Arrau (1935 - 1950)
Rubinstein (1949 - 1969)
Gould (1955 - 1964)
Horowitz (1960s)
Bolet (1960s)
Freire (Now :slight_smile: )
Gieseking (1935 - 1945)
Michelangeli (1948 - 1963)
Ogdon (1960 - 1970)
Rachmaninoff (1920s)
Serkin (1950s)

Anyway, this is all very subjective, but I just thought it would be interesting to get a few comments about this. I was just one day thinking that most of my favourite pianists seemed to me to be at their peak during 50s through the mid 60s.

Cziffra (1921-1994) 8) 8) 8) :ziff: :ziff: :ziff: :ziff: :ziff:

Hofmann - 1920s-30s
Fiorentino - late 80s-90s
Horowitz- 1928-53

It’s a shame we DON’T have recordings of certain pianists in their prime (Rosenthal, Nyiregyhazi, etc.)

We don’t have enough of nearly enough of Hofmann, and the repetoire we have is so repetitious. Busoni even more so, a pittance. Rosenthal should have made some acoustics, in the end he waited too long to record.

I forgot to mention the pianists who never reached their prime:


I’m sure there are others…

There this one Gilels recording I have from 1935, playing a transcription of Le Nozze di Figaro (possibly his own version?), that is just astounding. I never heard anything quite like it. Perhaps the 1930’s were his technical prime?

Tatum’s prime was definitely in the 1950’s, we’re lucky that the bulk of his recordings were made during that time.

Interesting idea - but I think some of the primes are too narrow, particularly Richter. Bolet played beautifully in the 1970’s, but the one I’m surprised at is Horowitz in the 60’s, when I think his playing had already declined (some of the CBS recs are marvelous). I thought his period in the 40’s and early 50’s - think Prok 7, Barber Sonata and Liszt album can’t be touched by anyone. Also his concerto rep was incredible with the right conductor. I still love his “Emperor” more than any other, even if it’s “wrong”. Michelangeli’s dates seem dead on, but I would wager that Rach never had a prime, but was playing incredibly to the end. Although if you’re basing it on the 2cd Concerto with Stoki - then you’e right. It just seems to me that his weakest playing is still better than almost anyone else.

Well, of course my narrow rating of Richter’s prime is based on extensive listening. I feel that in the 1940s his playing was perfect, based on the few examples we have. But there’s not enough there to call it a prime. In the 50s, he was at his physical peak, and he played as fast and as loud as anyone, but there was a nervous energy that overwhelmed much of his 1950s work - except the Sofia recital, and a few other examples. This carries through the New york debut, and then it seems like late 1960 and 1961 was a turning point.

His stressful US debut behind him, this is about the time of his London debut - London was a city he came to love, and he returned many times. The 1961 through 1967 period is FILLED with incredible recordings and concerts: The studio Schumann Fantasy, the Dvorak Concerto with Kondrashin, The Liszt Concertos, The Beethoven Cello Sonatas with Rostropovich, those lovely Bach Preludes and Fugues on DG, Beethoven Concertos 1 & 3 with Kondrashin, Brahms 2 with Rossi (my favourite rec), the DG Chopin Ballade 4, the DG Scriabin 5th. (1963) The Leipzig Beethoven recital, Schubert Wanderer Studio rec, Faschingsschwank / Papillons Studio recs, incredible live accounts of the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues, great Schubert concerts in 1964, the US concerts of 1965 where he was nearly at his peak, The Liszt Sonata, Live Chopin Scherzos, Franck Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, Variations Serieuses, Richter’s best Mozart playing, Miroirs + Valses Nobles, Schubert Duets with Britten, and of course, 67 has my favourite live Wanderer.

I could go on forever. But my main point is that the 1950s playing… larger than life, though it was, is largely lacking in that calm, beautiful tone that the 1960s is so rich with. And then there’s the 1970s… well there are still great recordings here and there, but not nearly with the same regularity as in the 60s. So, if I were to be less specific, I’d say Richter was at or near the top of his game from 1944 (earliest recorded Richter) through 1978. There are plenty of great recordings after 1980, but there are also many that are not up to par.

As for Horowitz, I’m mostly thinking of those wonderful CBS recordings. The Live Schumann Fantasy, The 1968 Carnegie Hall TV Broadcast, the Scarlatti Sonatas, etc etc. I don’t know a lot about the 40s and 50s period, and there seem to not be very many recordings from then, so I can’t really say. I know I’ve never enjoyed the Prokofiev 7, nor do I find the Barber sonata to be particularly impressive. I’ll grant you that the 40s and 50s Liszt stuff is stunning. I probably just need to do more listening.

With Rachmaninoff, my three favourite recordings are from 1924 (the Rach 2), 1929 (The Carnaval) and 1930 (the Chopin Sonata). But you’re absolutely right, the 1930s and 40s stuff certainly isn’t any less impressive. I guess just reading about the neuralgia he suffered through as he got older, I assumed his playing became less consistent as he aged, though his recordings don’t show this.

Koji (1988-1993)

lol, I guess I should’ve quit ten years ago. :stop:

15 if you believe the assesment above.

Hence the :stop:

Damn I feel like such a noob when I hear you guys talk about everything so specifically, I absolutely have no idea about this all, only for Horowitz really, but that’s because I had a huge period of uber Horowitz-luvin’. (his prime was around the 60s for me as well, as most people here seem to think). I really only listen to recs, just for listening. I listen a huge load but I’m not too busy with all the dates and when (mostly I limit my knowledge to early, mid, late)

Lazar Berman–'50s-'60’s.

And I would argue that Kapell was hitting his prime by the late '40’s, and Lipatti was a completely finished artist by the time he was 21.

I tend to think Kapell still had a bit of growing to do and his playing would have peaked around 1960-65.

I often dream about seeing Kapell in Concert at Carnegie Hall, ~ 1964 playing the Schumann Fantasy, Liszt Sonata, Beethoven Op. 111 and maybe the Wanderer Fantasy :smiley:

I must admit I’m so getting tired of the bullshit I keep reading in reviews and various boards about Willy Kapell’s lack of growth. I’d kill to do 1/10th of what that man accomplished before he died. Some of his performances are the standards by which you should measure any performance of some pieces.

Btw, I think Ashkenazy’s prime is now, becase he’s a hell of a lot better conductor than pianist. He always sounded so tight and inhibited to me (and I heard him live frequently), but as a conductor he’s so much more musical, even if he can’t tell up from down with the stick.

He was already a great pianist, I just don’t think he was finished developing. I feel he would have gotten even better.

Yeah, that’s sort of what I was getting at too. Even with him dying before his prime, he was one of my favourite pianists. If he’d lived longer, he’d have been king of the world.

That’s the Busoni transcription.

Michelangeli - 1939-1995