While “authentic” piano recordings of Romantic composers are not very common, there are a handful of musicians who have recorded these works on the fortepiano, or the instrument of the time of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. The best-known performer is probably Roland Brautigam, who has recorded complete sets of music, for the Swedish label Bis, by Haydn (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) and Mozart (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) . Brautigam is currently completing a cycle of Beethoven’s solo piano works – the latest release in this series is dedication to variations (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) .
While Brautigam records exhaustive sets, other performers record some of this piano repertoire on fortepiano. Andreas Staier, who recently released a recording of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations on fortepiano (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), has never recorded “cycles” of any composer’s works, but flits around from one composer to another.
But these pianists tend to neglect Franz Schubert. Now that Brautigam is reaching the end of his Beethoven cycle, I hope that he will record Schubert’s many wonderful piano works.
But in the meantime, there is an excellent series of recordings of Schubert’s piano sonatas by Paul Badura-Skoda. This pianist recorded all of Schubert’s piano sonatas on three three-disc sets for the Arcana label, that were recently bundled into a box set (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). As with the other composers cited above, the fortepiano brings the listener back to the instrument that the composer used when writing the music. (Or, in the case of Mozart and Haydn, some of their music was originally composed for harpsichord.) The sound is more intimate and the sustain shorter than a modern piano. But when you consider the dynamics, the attack and the sustain, these composers wrote music for those characteristics, not for those of today’s Steinway or Bösendorfer.
And in 2013, Badura-Skoda released a two-disc set of Schubert recordings, which includes three versions of Schubert’s final piano sonata D. 960 played on three different pianos: an 1826 Graf fortepiano, a 1923 Bösendorfer, and a 2004 Steinway grand. Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
Unfortunately, other recordings that Badura-Skoda made for the Astrée label, of the Impromptus, the Moments Musicaux and the Wanderer Fantasie, are out of print, and are very expensive. One can hope that these will be brought back into print someday.
But I also hope that Brautigam will start recording Schubert. He is a sensitive musician, and his recordings of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven are excellent. I love listening to music of this period on original instruments. If you haven’t done so, I strongly recommend some of these recordings by Brautigam and Badura-Skoda.