Top 20 pianists

Jan 26, 2013

Let's see your's! A true test of pianistic knowledge.
In approximate order:
Ferrucio Busoni
Sviatoslav Richter
Sergei Rachmaninoff
Emil Von Sauer
Josef Hofmann
Glenn Gould
Moritz Rosenthal
Leopold Godowsky
Vladimir Horowitz
Lazar Berman
Josef Lhevinne
Arthur Friedheim
William Kappell
Eugene D'Albert
Ergon Petri
Samuil Feinberg
Sophie Menter (Unfortunate lack of recordings... I'll have to live with piano rolls)
Vera Timanova
Danil Trifonov
Wilhem Backhaus

And a few others I probably forgot...


Comments

My list in vague order as well:

Sergei Rachmaninoff
Sviatoslav Richter
Josef Hofmann
Vladimir Ashkenazy
Vladimir Horowitz
Arturo Michelangeli
Nikolai Lugansky
Boris Berezovsky
Valentina Lisitsa
Arthur Rubinstein
Evgeny Kissin
Claudio Arrau
Alfred Cortot
Emil Gilels
Marc-Andre Hamelin
Freddy Kempf
Lazar Berman
Gyorgy Cziffra
Glen Gould
Noriko Ogawa
You guys forgot
Argerich
Van Cliburn
Schnabel
Kempff
Thank you for including Hofmann, Pianok98. A god of piano playing he is. Truly a god.
And Michelangeli has trills that sound like machine gun fire (I mean this in the best way possible).
I forgot Friedmann on my list. His playing is much better than even Feinberg, so I'd place him after Petri.
Argerich? Not a fan of her. Her Prokofiev is boring compared to Richter's.
But her Gaspard, Prokofiev 3, etc. are every bit as good as anyone else's.
Yeah I agree Hofmann is a god. I am a great fan of Michelangeli's playing of Debussy and Ravel, he plays Gaspard de Nuit perfectly, with such grace.

I don't really like Argerich either, I must say though her Prokofiev 3 is quite good as opposed to her playing of the Rach 3 which isn't very good in my opinion, she seems to make too many mistakes and her dynamic balance is all wrong I feel, she rushes the piece without having a light touch along the sensitivity that Rachmaninoff does. She just goes through it substituting romantic flavour and grace for speed, which the Rach 3 is not just about being able to play quickly at all.
Her Gaspard? Her pianissimos are pathetic. They sound like Michelangeli's double fortes, and sound like Hofmann playing quadruple forte.
My piano teacher's favorite pianist is Argerich....
I don't agree. Again, Busoni, Richter, and Rachmaninoff rule supreme.
No time to write much;

I like Argerich, but if I can get a recording of a piece by Cziffra or Hamelin I tend to. HJ Lim is also interesting. Much of what I look for is more obscure so I don't tend to have much choice,
Rachmaninoff all the way.
Ok then why not to include France Liszt and Frederic Chopin ?
As pianists? For sure, going on the words of people who wrote about their performances.
the title of discussion hasn't imposed any restrictions
That is true, though I highly doubt any of us would have enjoyed Chopin's or Liszt's playing. They literally improvised their performances. For example, listen to this version of Liszt's 12th Hungarian Rhapsody by his pupil, supposedly based on how Liszt himself played it.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7g-KCn4AOoo
It's very interesting, though it's not very authentic playback wise.
Most of Liszt's pupils did make recordings, but their playing style is so different that one can hardly assume what Liszt played like.
As for Chopin, he was so frail that people had trouble hearing him in the tiny concert halls that were common at the beginning of the 19th century. As for today's enormous concert halls, we would probably hear nothing.

ApresAlkan, there are times when great pianists play obscure pieces.
Listen to this transcendental recording by Rosenthal of a rather unknown piece:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YK_xEIfohlo
Again, the quality is poor, but it's indescribably beautiful.
A shame that such beautiful works as Sorabji's Concerto for Solo piano and Roslavets sonatas have to be played so badly by pianists such as John Powell.
Also, Gould played a few rather obscure pieces that are worth a listen.
Well I guess we may not just discuss the playing style of great pianists, but may try to popularize their performances. For instance I have added Rachmaninoff interpretation of Le Cuckoo to my score transcription, and I encourage everybody to do the same (when possible).
NFL I listened to the recording of liszt's pupil, and I don't like it very much, I am not a great fan of improvising during a performance. As for Chopin, apparently he had anxiety issues, before performances he would get terribely nervous, even throwing up, so perhaps he wasn't a great performer.
You may not like it, but that's apparently how Liszt himself played his pieces.
NFL you mentioned Leopold Godowsky after Rosental ?
@ Pianok98 you mantioned Valentina Lisitsa .
But I'm not sure She is better than Arthur Rubinstein . but I prefer Rubinstein .
And it seems no one mentioned Lang Lang ?
I will write my list soon , but let me to finish the 'The Great Pianists' written by Harold C. Schonberg first , Then I can write my list without no doubt .
Lang Lang is no great pianist.

NFL, I didn't mean that great pianists don't play obscure pieces (just look at Hamelin), I just meant that I don't get a huge amount to compare pianists on. I tend to judge on pieces of music I know—like the H-moll sonata by Liszt.

Pianok9: Not speaking as a performing pianist (I play for my own enjoyment, and possibly to a very small number people) in general, I like to improvise on pieces I learn. I don't learn very much to that sort of standard, when it's memorised and analysed, since I don't perform. But when I do, so that when I play it I never use the music, I improvise and play with it. Not in the way that Liszt or Chopin would, but nonetheless don't play it verbatim. Too many words for not enough said, but I wouldn't say that improvisation in performance is bad per se.
The H-moll sonata by Liszt? Compare Horowitz, Friedheim, D'Albert, etc. That might give you an idea of what the great pianists sounded like... unfortunately not a lot like Hamelin. Though Hamelin can be exciting, many of his interpretations are boring.
Apres, I do see what you mean about improvisation, just personally I am not a big fan, especially when listening to someone else I like to know what is to come, for instance when there is a particular section that I really enjoy and when a pianist improvises on it, the section can loose its integrity. Having said that though, there is a great skill involved in good improvising which I respect immensely,
I don't have a whole top ten, but surely Derek Paravicini belongs somewhere here?
Its a while ago, but I like the following pianist:
Maurizio Pollini (Chopin interpretation, best I'v ever heard)
Howard Shelley (complete piano works of Rachmaninoff)
Nikolai Lugansky
Valentina Lisitsa
and maybe some more...
I-Rachmaninov
II-Rihter
III-Busoni
Hoffman
Horowitz
Arthur Rubinstein
Artur Schnabel
Ashkenazy
Godowsky
Rosental
Maurizio Pollini
Valentina Lisitsa
Teresa Carenoe
Walter Gizking
Glenn Gould
Arrau
Kempv
Alfred Brendel
----------------------
I don't remember more right know , but I think Alexander Lubyanstev can add to my list later
We have the same top four!
Hurrah!
As a pianist?
Strange choice....
Updated list:
Sergei Rachmaninoff
Sviatoslav Richter
Ferrucio Busoni
Josef Hofmann
Glenn Gould
Emil von Sauer
Josef Lhevinne
Moritz Rosenthal
Leopold Godowsky
Heinrich Neuhaus
Lazar Berman
Vladimir Horowitz
Egon Petri
Maria Yudina
Ann Schein
William Kappell
Alfred Cortot
Vladimir de Pachmann
Ignaz Friedmann
Arthur Friedheim
I forgot Munz... he was a fantastic pianist.
I would actually like to alter my list as well:

Sergei Rachmaninoff
Josef Hofmann
Sviatoslav Richter
Vladimir Horowitz
Alfred Cortot
Ferrucio Busoni
Benno Moiseiwitsch
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli
Arthur Rubinstein
Claudio Arrau
Maurizio Pollini
Lazar Berman
Josef Lhevinne
Byron Janis
Walter Gieseking
Vladimir Sofronitsky
Simon Barere
Marc-Andre Hamelin
Glenn Gould
Leslie Howard
Rachmaninov
Richter
Horowitz
Hoffman
Backhaus
Rubinstein
Arrau
Gould
Cortot
Michelangeli
Zimerman
Pollini
Hess
Ashkenazy
Barenboim
Argerich
Schnabel
Berezovsky
Pletnev
Lisitsa
NFL , Rachmaninoff , Richter ,Busoni and Hoffman were great pianists , so they can be in any lists , isn't it ?
He is a fine pianist for sure, but he is not of the same class as the greats that have been mentioned (Rachmaninoff, Hoffman, Richter etc)
New list:
Ferrucio Busoni
Sergei Rachmaninoff
Lazar Berman
Sviatoslav Richter
Josef Hofmann
Glenn Gould
Josef Lhevinne
Alfred Cortot
Mieczyslaw Munz
Heinrich Neuhaus
Wilhem Backhaus
Grigory Ginzburg
Benno Moiseiwitsch
Ruth Slenczynska
Emil von Sauer
Moritz Rosenthal
Vladimir Horowitz
Leopold Godowsky
Maria Yudina
Arthur Grunfeld
New List :
Sergei Rachmaninoff
Georges Cziffra
Sviatoslav Richter
Ferrucio Busoni
Josef Hofmann
Glenn Gould
Maurizio Pollini
Vladimir Horowitz
Arthur Rubinstein
Boris Berezovsky
Vladimir Ashkenazy
Evgeny Kissin
Artur Schnabel
Claudio Arrau
Leopold Godowsky
Walter Gieseking
Alfred Brendel
Valentina Lisitsa
Teresa Carenoe
Alexander Lubyantsev (He is so young but I'm sure he'll be a virtues pianist)
Cziffra? More of a circus actor... much too technical, and boring colour.
And Pollini? Again, much too technical, and stiff as a rock.
I don't get why everybody likes Lisitsa... she is so boring. Her musical conceptions are about as mature as a nine-year old... almost animalistic. No poetry, no sparkle.
Argerich's "Jeux d'eau" was sublime. She, despite not strictly sticking to the score's dynamics, adds such a flair and passion into the piece and naturally enhances the Impressionist style; even though Impressionism isn't a favourite of mine, I can only commend her. I do agree that her ensemble performances are a little drab and haphazard, but she makes up for the lack of "emotion" in her solo interpretations. She understands the piano and knows how to interpret and change a piece for benefit.
NFL , have you ever heard Polonaise Op.53 of Chopin from Cziffra ? When ever you watch it tell me your idea about Cziffra . Or if you watched it already and you say he is boring it's shows we have different idea about pianists .
I like Pollini because of Chopin's etude .
And Lisitsa , as a female pianist she is good .
Anyway that was my idea about top pianist . It's impossible that all have a same idea about pianist .
There is no imagination in their playing. They are technically astonishing, but they are not true artists.
And for female pianists, what about Slenczynska, Yudina, Samaroff, Czerny-Stefanska, etc?
I f I want energy and fire and amazing insight,more color,musicality Hofmann is no.1,if I want poise,balanced judgement and the fingers of Hofmann I'd pick Richter as the most perfect pianist we have on records. Hofmann(can do what noone else can but his playing is marred by out of control judgement and choices in he left in live recs he left.Even before the alcoholism there were problems,Richter,Gilels,Cortot,Andras Schiff is along with Brendel a force unlike any other alive!Horowitz -even badly medicated in Japan his sound and mixing of color was beyond others,RaduLupu has no equal he can do in Beethoven and Schubert what others dont have the class or insight to do in Rachmaninoff,LangLang can make a single note hot or cold his imagination and class leave everyone outdoors,I've never heard more personal pianists than Hofmann,Horowitz,Argerich and Cherkassky .Put on a disc and their playing is different from anyone else.Pollini in Mozart or Haskil?I'd go to see Haskil her warmth and personality shine through but I'd rather hear Pollini in Debussy or Boulez each note will be different .Professionals will tell you Bolet was the equal of Horowitz but I dont enjoy him as much sparkle,sound,magic eluded Bolet.Pletnev is beyond fingers but I prefer a minor Pogorelich in ravel and his Scarlatti has more quality to me than Michelangeli or Horowitz, Brendel,Serkin(compare his Strauss Burleske to others ,Ciccolini,Perahia and so many others deserve mention but I chose the pianists who if I wanted a special evening I would go to see. Sauer,Moisewitsch,Lhevinne,Cherkassky.StephenHough have more charm than any I have come cross.Professional say Rachmaninoff is on top with Hofmann because the personality is so colossaland the amazing left hand but how can you admire a pianist whose recorded Bach and Chopin sound like he is playing Rachmaninoff he had no philosophy for each composer the way Rubinstein or Moseiwitsch did or totally remarkable Schiff in everything he plays. Listening to him is like a hallucination-totally remarkable.Hardly anyone in recording has that kind of personality and style.We can't compare Geiseking,Kempfand Solomon inBeethoven with Kocsis and Perahia. Katchen in Brahms with Rubinstein or Geiseking in Brahms,Lipatti ,Weissenbergand Moravec with Perahia and Uchida in Chopin sonatas.Personality gets in the way of judging a pianist.I heard Bella Davidovich in Los Angeles and thought she was a god as did my teacher so where do we draw the line.There is magic and then there is everything else.I vote for a discussion on most magical recordings of certain repertoire.Favorite Kreisleriana or Brahms second or Stravinsky Petrouchka.
Gilels
Michelangeli
Ivan Moravec (Unsurpassed Chopin)
Richter
Horowitz (50's and before)
Martha Argerich (Amazing Chopin and Schumann with young Martha)
Wilhelm Backhaus
Wilhelm Kempff (not only Beethoven; did sublime Bach)
Glenn Gould (although I wouldn't choose him for Prokofiev, Mozart and some Beethoven)
Robert Casadesus (not only Ravel; he did amazing Beethoven)
Murray Perahia (amazing Brahms and, of course, Chopin)
Jorge Bolet
Vladimir Sofronitsky (magical Scriabin, Chopin)
Ingrid Haebler (Mozart lives!)
Evgeny Kissin
Andras Schiff (incredible Schumann)
Mitsuko Uchida (love her Mozart and Schubert)
Georges Cziffra (love his baroque recordings)
Yundi Li has an incredible and thrilling Liszt B Sonata
Julius Katchen

I have to listen more Claudio Arrau, Pollini, Ashkenazy, Rubintein and other obvious great pianists - the list cannot be definitive...
If you talk to pianists who have studied at the highest levels and know what is intelligent choices made in a performance you will find many agree about Bolet having a greater technique than Horowitz but noone was as exciting as H .I would say few have as much color . Sokolov and Curzon (his Liszt Sonata speaks like few others ,his Brahms could teach all of us a thing or two.) Serkin's Chopin etudes and Strauss Burleske,Brahm's 1&2 show he had as much finesse ,intelligence ,class and power as any . I hope to hear more Kapell and Katchen. Hofmann is the best recorded pianist we will ever have "nuff said . How can Rachmaninoff be compared with interpreters when he plays Bach and Chopin like Rachmaninoff . He had a large titanic personality but Radu Lupu ,Perahia any knowledgable pianist will tell you are finer than any of those"personalities from the 1930's and 40's. My teacher was a pupil of Cortot but I don't let books (H.Scnberg Great Pianistsand others ) persuade me when twe have recordings . There is a fascinating youtube video of Busoni playing the Chopin preludes he recomposes the music to fit his fancy does all kinds of textural things that have nothing to do with Chopin 's Erard .None of these pianists would be able to graduate from a conservatory today. Argerich has more imagination ,color and she is always exciting. You people should ask your teachers who they admire and you will see its very different from these lists. How Casadesus had a big career I will never know.Moravec is very interesting not for catholic tastes.DePachmann? Play him for any pianist and they will fail him. I had another teacher who was a pupil of a Leschetitzky pupil and she was not impressed with godowsky's recordings .Moisewitsch however is at the top of my list. The fact that Earl Wild is not present on this list says a lot. Recently I heard the Menotti pf . concerto. I could not believe the playing .Class! When I found out it was him I realized I had been ignoring one of the greatest Americans ever to touch a piano. Ask any professional what they think of Howard shelley. Hough is much finer and he has a personality and charm.Katsaris is not talked about a lot but his Chopin ranks with the legends -never will you hear such voicing and sustained concentration of all the elements. Berman should have been in the Phillips compilation when his recs came out in the 70's every pianist I've talked to could not believe this was a living pianist .I saw him as a child but I didn't know what I was hearing I just recognized a huge ,unleashed untiring force of energy was on the stage. I saw Arrau only once in Los Angeles. Forgettable.But talk to anyone who studied with him and they will tell you amazing things.I knew a pianist who heard Lhevinne in the 1920's he played Chopin e minor con. he said he never looked at his hands the entire concert and the sound was like a dream not one uncontrolled sound no matter how many lines were played at once!
Oh dear I wrote Katsaris when I meant Ciccolini. C.! yes! he is a master that Yudina and Habler were included in Phillips collections was politics. Brendel thought Habler now in her 80's should be remembered but how do you compare such a small repertoire and an even smaller recorded rep. One of the hallmarks of memorable pianist is how many styles they really master and say something in. Uchida is one of these.Brendel is one of these! I'd like to hear Sofronitsky in Beethoven I think his faults would show . Gould is seen differently now. Incredible spirit and ideas in Bach but Chopin and late Beethoven show he had numerous faults . Lisitsa is an example of how fine many pianists can build a following these days -there are 50,000 others as poetic as pianistic hear her play Ives with Hilary Hahn and you can feel what she has but it isn't the stuff legends make. It's a cruel world for executants: only a few have magic on stage and are subtle in Schumann like Argerich .
Of course this list will be changed...
1-Sergei Rachmaninoff
2-Maurizio Pollini
3-Vladimir Ashkenazy
4-Boris Berezovsky
5-Evgeny Kissin
6-Earl Wild
7-Henriette Gartner (watch this from her : http://youtu.be/5SS22XOwsm0 )
8-Glenn Gould (He could be in first, but I'm not so interested to baroque era and also modern music)
9-Gyorgy Cziffra
10-Vladimir Horowitz
11-Alfred Brendel
12-Martha Argerich
13-Valentina Lisitsa
14-Artur Schnabel
15-Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli
16-Claudio Arrau
17-Ignaz Friedman
18-John Ogden
19-Jozef Lhevinne
20-Alexis Weissenberg
Not so impressed by Henriette Gardner. What about Moiseiwitsch, who is pretty much the definition of masterly phrasing? Just compare:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp7xFYZepBw
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GK4z0iM-VxU
Lisitsa...??
I believe Henriette Gartner has best performance of Ride of Valkyries by Wagner-Tausig.(Look up the pdf file in imslp.org ) She plays it so fluent; I really enjoys from her performing.

About Benno Moiseiwitsch, I forgot him to add him in my list also I forgot Richter,Godowsky and Rosalyn Tureck and also so many other greats.
Moiseiwitsch was really well. I enjoy from listening to Rachmaninoff's Momment musicals by him. ( No.4 in e minor: http://youtu.be/eJw2m0YuEaw )
But I'm not sure that he is (was) better than Kissin. Though Moiseiwitsch played Chopin's nocturne so much better than Kissin
And thanks for that links , I haven't listened to that Chopin's Nocturne form Moiseiwitsch . He played it so delightful ,lovely and nocturnely!
Also Kissin's performing was really tedious, The worst performing of him!

Lisitsa , why not Lisitsa?
Sure, she did the best performance of that piece: but, firstly, it's a pretty bad piece (even among Tausig's horrible transcriptions it's one of the worst), and, secondly, that doesn't make her the 7th best pianist ever recorded, does it? I mean, better than Michelangeli? Does she even come close to reaching 1% of Michelangeli's titanic pianism?
I didn't notice Richter was missing. Yes, you should be ashamed of skipping Richter...
Lisitsa is just not a pianist's pianist.
Wait... you didn't include Ferrucio Busoni?!!!
My list:
Busoni
Rachmaninoff
Ginzburg
Berman
Richter
Gould
Moiseiwitsch
Lhevinne
Neuhaus
Hoffman
Munz
Zecchi
Backhaus
Cortot
Yudina
Pabst
Grunfeld
Sauer
Rosenthal
Godowsky

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