An interesting article appeared on


Posted on Thu, Aug. 19, 2004

Beethoven omnibus: 32 sonatas and scores on a CD
By David Patrick Stearns Inquirer Music Critic

Even a few decades ago, this technology was as sci-fi as brain transplants.But here it is: all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas plus scores compressed into a single CD-ROM selling for $29.98, newly released by Newport Classic. Watch your DVD player or computer swallow it up, and you're good for 10 hours of music. Buying the recordings on compact disc (on which they're also available) and the scores as hard copies would cost around $150.Too good to be truly distinguished? More on that later.Titled Beethoven: Complete Sonatas, the disc represents the latest technology in an industry always looking for ways to enshrine the musical past. It also signifies an unlikely alliance between Newport's Larry Kraman, one of the recording industry's most colorful renegades, and pianist Seymour Lipkin, a 77-year-old Curtis Institute of Music graduate and longtime faculty member who took it upon himself to record the complete Beethoven sonatas at Curtis' Field Concert Hall off Rittenhouse Square.Like many independently made recordings, Lipkin's cycle sat unpublished for about five years, and might have continued to languish had the project not been brought to the attention of Kraman, whose Newport Classic label has about 150 discs. Most of them have an unconventional twist, such as Klezmer Nutcracker."We met at a Greek diner in Manhattan," Kraman recalls. "I was racking my brain because I knew if I put it out on an old-guard CD, nothing would happen [because of a Beethoven glut in the marketplace]. But I knew I could get 10 hours of MP3s on a disc. Seymour was dubious. He said, 'What about the quality? I've spent so much time on this!' ""I was worried that some of the fine points of the phrasing might get skated over," says Lipkin, who learned his Beethoven from the loftiest of Curtis faculty, pianists Rudolf Serkin and Mieczyslaw Horszowski. "I feel very close to the music. It's astonishing to do these sonatas - the enormous power and variety that's sustained over this period of time."Also, the recordings were the culmination of a decade of study and three complete Beethoven sonata cycles in Blue Hill, Maine (where Lipkin directs the Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival), New York and Boston. There had been talks with another independent label, and when the project fell through, Lipkin recorded the sonatas anyway - and edited the tapes himself - while the music was still in his fingers.Not that he was in any race with age, even with the finger-busting "Hammerklavier"sonata: "I'd play it tomorrow," says Lipkin, who will give an all-Schubert recital presented by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society on Feb. 2 at the American Philosophical Society.Lipkin concluded that there was no considerable degradation of sound quality on the CD-ROM, and Kraman entered negotiations to use a public-domain edition of the Beethoven sonatas that he found on the Web site The deal was made over e-mail in 72 hours."In the old days," Kraman says, "we'd have lawyers. It would have taken forever."The only catch is the home equipment. Though most computers will play the music and display the 611 pages of scores separately, XP models made over the last few years can access both simultaneously. However, few music lovers are likely to sit upright at a computer screen for hours while listening to Beethoven; better to print out the score and listen on the sofa.These innovations would be meaningless without good music-making. Insiders know of Lipkin's extensive pianistic activities, but his big years as a concert artist were in the era of long-deceased legends, such as Eugene Ormandy, Fritz Reiner, Charles Munch and Serge Koussevitzky. To many, he's best known as conductor of the Joffrey Ballet orchestra and Long Island Symphony. However, a spot check of crucial sonatas among the 32 suggests that Lipkin's less-than-jet-set life works to the music's advantage.This is not Beethoven conceived on a schedule; it has a consistency that comes from study without shortcuts. Though not strikingly original, the interpretations are thoroughly examined and strongly felt, down to the smallest detail. There's a clear stylistic evolution from the early, extroverted Haydn-esque sonatas to the more introverted late works, but the overall approach is small-scale, lacking gratuitous coloring or sentimental emotionalism, but with sparkling fingerwork when necessary.If Lipkin has an Achilles' heel, it's his left-hand rhythm, which reliably propels the music forward but sometimes fails to become a means of expression unto itself. Mostly, Lipkin's cycle has the integrity of Richard Goode's Beethoven - a quality seconded by the thoughtful 10,000-word essay on the sonatas by Theodore Libbey Jr.Sound quality is excellent, even for those without a sophisticated home-entertainment system. Even when hearing the music through TV speakers on a DVD player, one easily catches interpretive points both obvious and subtle. The recordings themselves lack room ambience and have a plain-Jane quality. So those who crave a little more glamour in their Beethoven will have to make allowances. But that's a high-quality allowance indeed.