The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: You can help the schools by buying and building a library of music through Barnes and Noble

March 1, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

As I promised yesterday, here are details about how to support music education when you buy CDs, DVDs and books from Barnes and Noble bookstores this coming Sunday:

Basically there will be live music in every B&N store (below) in Wisconsin from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 6.

At the time of purchase the shopper needs to inform the clerk that “this purchase is for music in our schools” or use Bookfair #10258226.  A percentage of in-store sales from that day will go to Wisconsin Foundation for School Music.

What could be really helpful, though, and what can be pushed on a regional and national level, is that any purchases made online FROM ANYWHERE between Sunday, March 6, and Thursday, March 10, using the Bookfair #10258226 will also go towards the cause.

Now, it’s on to my turn or word.

The Wisconsin Center for School Music – an umbrella group for music education in the state — has asked me to provide a list (to be shared with Barnes and Noble for stocking purposes) of recommendations for a building a library of recordings, DVDs and books for people (young people and adults) interested in classical piano music.

It is by no means exhaustive. But in my almost 30 years of writing for The Capital Times and the Wisconsin State Journal newspapers in Madison, Wisconsin, followed by 18 months of writing my Internet blog “The Well-Tempered Ear” (link is plus a lifetime of amateur playing and listening, these are what I think would constitute a terrific library of basic piano recordings.

Although historic recordings have their place, I have emphasized more recent recordings with more current standards of engineering, living artists and a better sound.

I have made two exceptions that some will disagree with. I have not included any concertos, though ones by Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Rachmaninoff would rank high.

I have also not included chamber music – piano duos with violin, cello or another piano as well as piano trios, quartets and quintets. Perhaps in future years I can do those. Both concertos and chamber music with piano are a rich source of great music.

But today my focus is on solo piano music.


In some cases I have provided alternatives choices, and they range from single CDs to boxed sets, usually available at a bargain price. Also, I have listed them in chronological order rather than a strictly ranking since so much, including my own choices, depends on personal taste.

J.S. Bach. The “Goldberg” Variations: “A State of Wonder.” Glenn Gould (below). Here are two totally different interpretations of the same iconic work, done 25 years apart, yet both equally convincing and both from the same man. How did he do it? Listen and marvel. (Sony, 3 CDs)

J.S. Bach. “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” Book I. Till Fellner (ECM, 2 CDs).

Scarlatti. “Horowitz Plays Scarlatti.” (Sony).

Haydn. Selected Piano Sonatas. Andras Schiff. (Teldec, 2CD); or Alfred Brendel (Philips, 4 CDs)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Complete Piano Sonatas. Mitsuko Uchida (below). (Philips box, 5 CDs.) Or single CDs by Alfred Brendel (Philips)

Beethoven. Complete 32 Piano Sonatas. Richard Goode. (10-CD box, Nonesuch). Or Jonathan Biss’ single disc anthology with “Pathetique,” “Pastorale, ”Opp. 90 and 109. (EMI)

Schubert. Last three piano sonatas. Murray Perahia. (Sony, 2 CDs)

Schubert. Impromptus, “Moments Musicaux” and Dances. Alfred Brendel. (Philips budget Two-fer)

Chopin. Ballades and Scherzi. Arthur Rubinstein (RCA) or Emanuel Ax’s anthology (Sony, 2 budget CDs)

Chopin. Mazurkas. Arthur Rubinstein (below). (RCA, 2 CD-set)

Chopin. Waltzes. Arthur Rubinstein (RCA) or Alexandre Tharaud (Harmonia Mundi).

Chopin. Preludes. Alexandre Tharaud (Harmonia Mundi) or Maurizio Pollini (Deutsche Grammophon).

Schumann. “Scenes of Childhood” and “Kreisleriana.” Martha Argerich. (Deutsche Grammophon)

Brahms, Late Piano Pieces. Radu Lupu. (Decca)

Rachmaninoff. Complete Preludes. Vladimir Ashkenazy. (Decca)

Debussy, Preludes, Books 1 and 2 on one CD. Pascal Roge. (Onyx)

Ravel. Complete Works. Pascal Roge. (Decca, budget 2-CD set)

Shostakovich, Preludes and Fugues. Vladimir Ashkenazy (Decca, 2 CDs)

In addition, here are two books that are required to make the most of the CDs:


Harold C. Schoenberg, “The Great Pianists.” The late New York Times critic provides a panoramic historical view of the piano, its literature and its great players.

“The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music.” This is a great and reliable compact reference work with short biographies, definitions of foreign language terms and other information.


You can find many piano DVDs that are exciting to watch, from a solo recital of late Schubert in a church by Alfred Brendel to master classes with various masters including Marc-Andre Hamelin. But the most exciting piano DVDs I have watched are in the series issued by the Van Cliburn Foundation and based on the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition held every four years. They feel spontaneous and dramatic, and give you a feel of what piano playing is like at a world-class professional level.

What CDs, DVDs or books featuring solo piano would you recommend?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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