I call any disc that contains Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas Nos. 14, 23 and 8 as a "piano student album".
Those three sonatas — the "Moonlight" (No. 14), the "Appassionata" (No. 23) and the "Pathetique" (No. 8) — are standard repertoire for any degree-seeking music major concentrating on piano performance. And more than likely, you’ll find all three pieces offered for budget prices by every major classical label.
I bought the Vladimir Ashkenazy disc because it was on sale.
As academic as I make a collection of these three pieces sound, there’s a reason they’re taught to generation after generation of pianists — they’re expressive, challenging pieces but still very tightly constructed.
You’ve also probably heard them without knowing you’ve heard them.
Billy Joel mangled the second movement of the "Pathetique" into an awful pop song. The first movement of the "Moonlight" is inevitably featured on late-night commercials for classical music collections.
As great a hook as the second movement in the "Pathetique" is, it’s the framing movements that are my favorite. The first movement is fiery and passionate, while the third has its moments of delicacy and brashness.
It’s one thing to be swayed by the charms of the "Moonlight" sonata’s first movement — it’s something different to actually play it.
Back when classical music was first written, it was performed not by virtuosi but by middle class families, pounding their way through published scores in the privacy of their chambers. (Chamber music, anyone?)
The "Moonlight" sonata’s first movement can be played by hacks — such as myself — but the subtleties of the piece reach far beyond technique. The way minor turns to major or the way compound meter switches to common time — these give the piece its unsettling, haunting quality.
The short scherzo does a fine job of bridging such an introspective beginning with its furious conclusion.
I’m least familiar with the "Appassionata", but its nickname should give a fairly good description of the piece’s content. The first movement alone veers violently between soft and loud and back again.
The Ashkenazy recording itself has a clear sound, although the quieter moments can get lost in everyday white noise. If I’m driving, I could play this disc during rush hour traffic but not anytime outside of that.
Beginning listeners aiming to familiarize themselves with Beethoven’s piano works should start here.