Great classical pianists

Alexandra Dovgan is the pianist of her generation.


In the last century there was Richter. Today Trifonov. Now a new phenom. What is it in the Russian water that produces such giants of the keyboard?

We enjoy all great pianists. Rubinstein, Pollini, Argerich, Backhaus, Kempf, Michelangeli, Schnabel, Pogorelic, Gilels. Please add your favorite to this embarrassment of pianistic riches. But there is primus inter pares. 


Not much finesse by your favorite Alexandra, but perhaps that’s because everyone sounds like an amateur compared to Claudio Arrau. . .

I think you would do yourself a great favor by comparing this same piece performed by your favorite, then Arrau, and then anyone else: Ashkenazy, etc. . . I’m rather certain that you will agree that they all sound like beginners by comparision:

Perhaps Alfred Brendel is closest to Arrau, but a far second. Then Emil Gilels and Sviatoslav Richter in the top five (possibly higher, but all his recordings were done so poorly by RCA during the brief time he was freed by the Soviets to perform outside of the USSR, since he was a de facto political prisoner in the USSR.)

Glenn Gould is excellent with only one composer: Bach. Gould is the best pianist performing Bach’s works, but he is awful with any other composer: Beethoven, etc.

I’d add Moravec and Sokolov to your list. For some currently performing and excellent pianists I’d include Beatrice Rana (Bach), Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Debussy), Louis Lortie (Chopin & Liszt), Stephen Hough, and Jenny Lin, to name just a few accomplished or promising artists.

I am attending Alexander Malofeev’s solo recital in about six weeks. I expect this young man to become one of the greats

Martha Argerich is undisputed Queen of Piano of ALL times.

Personally involved in devotion to Valentina Lisitsa which is Piano Princess after Martha. She resides at Raleigh NC and I saw her live there. I bought $200 flower bouquet for her that day.

Glenn Gould, Murray Perahia and Vladimir Ashkenazy all come to mind.

If you want sad, then the middle section (adagio) from around 11 mins 30 below might well be the most sublime piece of music ever recorded.



I'm with #1 Rachmaninov and anyone that expresses him. Seen both Lisita and Matsuev do it well.

So many great Pianists past and present.  I saw Horowitz twice at the tail end of his career, Arrau once, Pollini a few times...all great in different ways.  

@ fuzztone Just curious, who did you study under?

Mrs. See. Later Mr. Horwath.

Don’t want to waste bandwidth by starting a flamewar but ...

Saw Horowitz once. He always set aside a number of seats for students at discounted price. And they were good seats like center third row. Not nosebleed section. Phenomenal tone. No matter how loud he played and he did play loud the tone never never ever broke up or even a hint of breaking up. That said his technical perfection left me cold emotionally. Or maybe I don’t connect with Scriabin. But his recording of pictures is great. The end is terrifying.

Saw Arrau twice. Sorry trolls but yawn.

Ashkenazy. xlnt. Heard him at a matinee then drove across town to see Jarrett who was in his imperious phase. No coughing. No shuffling. No nuttin’. He’s mellowed.

Argerich and Pollini a step above. Pollini would play it completely differently in performance than practice. It was the inspiration of the moment.

You don’t think it can get better then comes Trifonov. He caresses each individual note as if it’s his personal friend. Usually a long gap in time before the next best of their generation by definition. Surprise! Along comes Dovgan. Other posters mentioned Sokolov. Yes! And he said of Dovgan, she is not a child prodigy. Meaning Pallas Athena sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus.

Zimerman skates up to the edge, but he never goes over.

Excited to explore the many names posted that are new to me.


Some favorites: Slava Richter - love everything he played. Radu Lupu - his Schuman and Grieg are top notch. RIP Radu. I'm really liking Daniel Trifonov and Leif O. Andnes as well. Andnes does a great Ossia cadenza (Rach 3). My favorite is still Horowtiz. 

As indicated by others, there are so very many.

I saw Lang Lang play at The Barbican, London, a few months ago, and thought him impressively mechanical yet unmusical and without soul.

You might enjoy the wonderful Spanish player, Alicia de Larrocha, who passed in 2009, and recorded much on usually well turned out Decca records.

If you web search for: Hélène Grimaud, and look for "videos" the first film that comes up is:  Beethoven - Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 58 (Orchestre de Paris ...  a most spellbindingly touching performance on the evening after 9/11, of Grimaud and the Philharmonie de Paris under Eschenbach. There is a Guardian review of the concert explaining the circumstances of the day's events and the resulting music making. Grimaud is a highly intelligent and sensitive player. 

Aldo Ciccolini playing Satie (EMI records) and more.

Yevgeny Sudbin is a super music maker based in the UK, whose Scarlatti Piano Sonatas are stellar. I heard him play at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, he has great feeling and judgement, as have so many of his and even younger generations of students who must conjure with the greats noted above.

Finally, I mention Anna Szałucka, a Polish player based in London also of great interpretive intelligence and energy. I disclose she taught my daughter all the way through to a distinction at grade 8. The BBC has broadcast her live, she has won piano competitions at Tallinn, and much more. Electric. Enjoy.


A brief list of players that I would have liked to see but didn’t :

1) Annie Fisher

2) Wilhelm Kempff 

3) De La Rocha

4) Leon Fleisher 

5) Rudolf Serkin  I actually did see one of his last concerts-he regrettably should have hung it up by then


I did see one of Artur Rubinstein last concerts and it was memorable, particularly his Schumann.


My current favorite is Vikingur Olaffson 


For Beethoven and Chopin….give me Gilels.  Mozart…Uchida.  Bach…Andrew Rangell.  Or Gould if only he wouldn’t sing along!  Also Kempf for the big Germanic Romantics. 

Oh my o my o my! A full page of arguments and agreements about classical piano masters on Audiogon! Thank you, you made my morning...

Excellent quality pianists are a dime a dozen today. Now I am more attuned to the Jazz world, but most of them  (Jazz pianists) started out playing classical in their formative years. It is just that Jazz opens the door to much more diversity in style and sound. But even then there are those who do a classical style, that tare amazing and still have a secondary following like a new discovery for me, 'Sofiane Pamart', who also is an adequate composer. You would never guess from listening to his performance at 'Piano Day d' Arte Concert 2021' that he is known in Europe as the Go To backup musician for RAP Artists.
But as far as quality and sufficiency on the keyboards I can list many names but here are just a few:

I will start with the Well know Diane Krall ( the queen of finesse), then The extraordinary Hiromi Uehara (she just enjoys music TOOOO much), then Gerry Bryant, Sarah McKenzie, Marian Albero, Maja Alvanović, Mayo Nakano (marvelous), Michel Petrucciani, Monty Alexander, Yoko Miwa, All magnificent in their own way, and that barely scratches the surface.

Your classical pianists are too tightly bound by a rigid performance controlled by the original score where you take something ton the opposite extreme like Hiromi's rendition of 'Pachelbel's Canon' or better yet Gershwin's "I've Got Rhythm" as she interprets it, actually opens a personal vision of what the mind can actually experience.

Thank you for this video. Ms. Dovgan plays "The Tempest" beautifully, if just a bit slowly in the first movement. She’s beautiful, too, and so young. And so poised. Too bad she wipes her nose at the beginning (1:10).

My favorite young pianist no one so far has mentioned: Igor Levit. But it must be the Russian blood, not the air, that gets into the fingers; Levit was born in Gorky, but has lived in Germany for years. His recording of the late Beethoven sonatas is superb; I’m eager to hear what Ms. Dovgan does with them. He also has several really interesting "recital" albums, my favorite being three variations pieces from very different eras: Bach’s "Goldberg Variations," Beethoven’s "Diabelli Variations," and Rzewsi’s "The People United Will Never Be Defeated," which is the stunning highlight of the set (3 CDs).

My favorite complete set of the Beethoven sonatas, however, is the one by Richard Goode. Not showy at all, but perfectly judged, always intelligent, revealing lines of counterpoint you don’t usually hear in other pianists. Well recorded, too, although again not in a showy way: like you’re in the third row center, not inside the piano.

Grimaud has been mentioned; also a fave. Her recording of the Beethoven Fifth Concerto is my favorite in a crowded field, largely because it is so well recorded. And there’s a DGG SACD of the Beethoven Choral Fantasy, a great and somewhat overlooked piece, that is my primary reference recording: solo piano, full orchestra, solo voices and full chorus. On the same CD, she plays "The Tempest," but Ms. Dovgan’s performance tops hers. The CD is titled "Credo" and contains the astonishing piece by that name by Arvo Pärt. Not a piano showpiece by any means, but a frightening musical composition, superbly well performed and recorded.

Pollini, of course. Schnabel, just because (thrilling to hear those "authentic" tempi—although Beethoven’s use of the metronome is problematic for late works). Never liked Kempf, even when he was the only pianist I knew well (in college). He was a Nazi, too.

As for Horowitz...what can anyone say? No one had such a perfect technique (although Pogorelic comes close occasionally; too bad he burned out so early). My problem with Horowitz is that he shines with "pianistic" pieces—Chopin, Scriabin—and much less so with more interesting music. As far as I know, he never even recorded the Everest the the piano repertoire, Beethoven’s Op. 106. He did record Op. 111, another great and hugely important sonata (see Thomas Mann’s discussion of it in his novel Doktor Faustus), but his interpretation leaves me cold.


I cannot disagree with you that many of today’s classical pianists "are too tightly bound by a rigid performance controlled by the original score". However, most of Claudio Arrau’s recordings will demonstrate quite the opposite: he is very interpretative, which is why some individuals, who are classically trained, may not like him as much, as he plays what is written on the score, as well as what is not written, "between the notes," shall we say. However, not all of Arrau’s recordings are magnificent, as he has some mediocre recordings of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos, and Gilels might have the best recording of those concertos that I’ve heard.

As mentioned above, all listed here are excellent, but many are simply master technicians at playing the right keys right on time (Ashkenazy, Lang, Horowitz, et al), without the feeling or emotion behind the music.

Ah, I forgot to say anything about Arrau. As several testimonials here indicate, he has a cult following for sure. And, yes, his "interpretations" are very personal, for a classical pianist, and often compelling. But too often, they're just willful and, well, wrong. For example, take the Arietta movement of the Op. 111 sonata. Or the slow movement of Op. 106. Ritardandos galore where they are not written, and frequently bloated tempi that Beethoven would surely have angrily rejected (again, we know this because of Beethoven's use of metronome markings). 

 Listening now. But in this effort, I must also add that the Studio or engineers on the project can make or break a recording. I am currently streaming "Debussy: Estampes, L. 100 - 1. Pagodes" and though I can tell that he is quite talented and expressive, to my liking, I am having to tune out the echo from the cavernous room that he is being recorded in. Possibly that was intended to create an ethereal sound, but I doubt it. I have an affinity towards recording from "Steinway & Sons Studio". They have spent a lot of effort in perfecting the recording and it shows.

But again, I have a certain love for classical music, as I was raised in a musical home, but and a big but, it is difficult at best to record (the technical aspect) of a large orchestra and when looking at a solo, it should be as near perfect as possible or I just don't want to waste my time. I search hard for talented and well-made recordings of classical. I just am not finding many of them.
I am going to spend some time with Auuau and hope that if you haven't heard them (I'd be surprised if you haven't) Hyperion Knight and of course one of the first crossovers, Claude Bolling. If you had some of his original LPs in good condition, they are worth $thousands$.
By the way just listened to, 'Liszt: Années de pèlerinage: 3ème année, S.163 - 4. Les jeux d'eau à la Villa d'Este' and it was very well made.

In addition to Jeremy Denker and Vikingur Olafsson, I'll add Jennifer Hewitt and Andras Schiff. So many wonderful pianists, so little time!

this young Russian pianist (he died) is especially loved in Japan... He has a special manner of performing (he was engaged in martial arts)... Chopin in his performance is a hit.
In this video, my favorite Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 2


Gieseking for Beethoven. Most especially his 1944 'Emperor' with anti-aircraft cannons breaking through. Did not fully appreciate 'Emperor' till then.

There are so many great pianists that I find making comparisons to be somewhat silly. I’ve heard conservatory students who were amazing and many of them will go through life without getting the attention they deserve. As for those who enjoy stardom, I saw in concert Andre Watts, Helene Grimaud, Fredrick Rzewski. At the Theatre Champs Elysee in Paris I caught Elisabeth Leonskaja perform Beethoven Sonatas. Around 1983, I saw Paul Bley with Steve Swallow and Paul Motion in Greenwich Village at the Lush Lounge. The club was very small; Jaco Pastorius and myself sat together in the far back. Paul Bley is forever etched in my mind from that experience.

As far as recordings go, I’m loyal listener to; Clara Haskil, Edwin Fischer, Alexander Melnikov, Andras Schiff, Maurizio Pollini, Angela Hewett, Marc-Andre Hamlin, Artur Rubinstein and recently Anna Malikova, to name a few. 

Pascal Roge is great as well. His performances of Debussy, Poulenc and Ravel are tops in my book. 

Liberace - "I wish my brother George was here." Only kind of joking. He actually was a great pianist early on and won some competitions but later on went for showmanship over quality. But people loved him for that showmanship.

Evgeny Kissin

Artur Rubenstein, esp Chopin Nocturnes

Pogorelich, esp his Scriabin

Lots of great classical pianists, of course.  But I find it extremely curious that no one (unless I missed it) has mentioned Yuja Wang, who is very easily as splendid or more so than any number of the folks listed even multiple times above.  Is it because she is also fun and a bit provocatively sexy, which is not to be approved?


Oh, and it's Jeremy Denk, not "Denker".

For the Beethoven sonatas -- the New Testament of solo piano -- I prefer Annie Fisher.  Her playing is full-blooded, passionate, engaged.  

Among current pianists, I find Vikingur Olaffson compelling, especially in Philip Glass.  His technique is staggering.

Another contemporary player with impressive command of the instrument is Marc-Andre Hamelin.  His recording of Frederic Rzewski's "The People United" is a blast.


As he is affectionately known in Russia, Vanya-Van Cliburn.

Certainly, there are many masters of the keyboard. But Vanya’s deeply emotional interpretations stand out as one-of-a-kind. He was in a category all by himself.

Mitsuku Uchida is one of my favorites, particularly for Mozart but her style translates well to other composers. I also like Maria Joao Pires--her Nocturnes are fabulous as are her Wigmore Hall chamber recordings. 

apr records released a series of recordings entitled The Russian Piano Tradition. Lot’s of Soviet Era recordings in this catalogue. I used to believe the Russian school to be mostly psychological but right after the Orange Revolution, I visited a friend in Odessa, Ukraine. We went to the Philharmonia Concert Hall and I saw a Juilliard schooled pianist who also studied under the Soviet system. After seeing and hearing that, I had a new appreciation for Russian musical training.

Anyway, the apr recordings are out of print but they are scattered about on the internet. I have a couple originally recorded in the early to mid 1950’s and the remastering is excellent.

I just acquired a 2 LP album of Khatia Buiatishvili playing Chopin. I must say it is a superb recording. 

These days, I listen to Josep Colom a lot, I think he's great. But in general for me too, it's Glenn Gould who first comes into mind among the many others. I tend to be forgiving with respect to the idiosyncrasies of geniuses like him (like his singing, etc.), I find that "part of the package", and it doesn't bother me. Genius often comes with very strong opinion about others, and thus "unorthodox" interpretation of their works -- I guess we all know that about Gould. One of my favourite recordings by him is Haydn's late piano sonatas, escpecially the C Major Hob. XVI:48. If it could be quantified at all, I wouldn't be sure how many percents are Haydn in that recording, and how many are Gould, but I have a feeling that it's about as much Gould as it is Haydn (of course, just like none of us can know how a recorded music sounded live, unless you were there [and even then...], we may never know how Haydn played that sonata to himself one late night back in those days, whether Schiff is closer to him than Gould, etc; so I would say the piece is up to strong interpretations -- as long as you enjoy it).  


Heard Helene Grimaud play Brahms Piano Concerto Number One in Dallas on Friday 07 October 2022. A stupendous, monumental performance with tremendous accompaniment by the Dallas Symphony conducted by their music director Fabio Luisi. The pianist puts her awesome technical powers at the service of Brahms shaping the music into new and arresting forms. But never flash.

A great performance at the same exalted level of her Beethoven Fourth with Orchestre de Paris and Christoph Eschenbach.on YouTube.

Looking forward to two more performances today and tomorrow.


Fabulous, I can only imagine how wonderful to be there in Dallas. You have inspired me to check; she will play in London in May the Bach / Busoni Chaconne and more, in the very same hall I heard Lang Lang play --like a well oiled machine-- last May !  Beauty and judgement will reign next May.

My favorites are:

Paderewsky, Cortot, Rachmaninov, Schnabel, Gould, Yudina, Horowitz, Richter.

When I was a young record collector my pianistic god was Arrau who couldn't put a finger wrong for me. When it came to the eighties though he just became slow and cumbersome and a lot of the recordings during that period should never have been released. For instance, he recorded Bach's Partitas and they were released a long time after his death "big mistake" the tempi were all over the place and a very poor copy of what was once the greatest pianist on the planet "for me".  Today I favour some of the Russian pianists, Sokolov, Trifonov, Buniatishvili and my personal favourite of them Arkady Volodos who is undeniably a technical wizard without comparison. In a class of her own though is Martha Argerich who is still giving spellbinding performances in her eighties. I have heard Pletnev live a few times in Edinburgh and when on form he is incomparable. His was the most electrifying Bach/Busoni Chaconne I have ever heard live or recorded and thank goodness he is recording piano again. I think we are all in an age now of so many specialists that it is difficult to say who is best but it should now be " who plays this or that composer best". 

Over the past year, I’ve discovered another “classical” pianist, who does excellent “interpretive” work, as he prided himself on being a jazz pianist who played classical music: Samson Francois. Some of his Chopin interpretations are unparalleled, but he is definitely unconventional.  I think he prided himself over never playing the same piece the same way twice, which should appeal to some of those who think that classical music has become too formulaic.

My three favorite are :

Ivan Moravec, Vladimir Sofrontisky, and the greatest of all even in his ruined old age , Ervin Nyiregyházi...

Why ?

Because music is not about sound and playing perfection but about meanings and expressive emotions first and last ... We listen to meanings and not only that in fact we felt meaning and react to it ......

The Russian school is unrivalled by the great number of top pianists produced ...

The best test for a pianist is the impossible task to play Scriabin with expression or Liszt with rythm and colors control ...

I forgot many not so well recognized non Russian genius as for example Yves Nat in Beethoven or Michael Ponti in Scriabin ( in spite of a horrible recording sound ) and many others ... Or John Ogdon expressive interpretation of Busoni or Sorabji in the clavicem balisticum ...

And the goddess of piano is Maria Yudina, a so strong woman that she said no to Stalin money, at the risk of loosing his life , and Stalin died listening his playing always turning at the side of his deathbed ,a recording of Mozart made in the night at high speed after an unrecorded concert few years before his death and after the monster which was calmed by his playing asked for the recording which was never made and was replayed with Yudina awaken to did it for him in the night again ... Yudina feared only God and refused Stalin money and said to his face that she will pray for his sins in a telephone call from the monster so feared Shostakovitch could not sleep ...

Now imagine this woman so poor not owning a piano most of his life and playing, Russians know what a pianist saint is , she was one ...

Now german piano school is extraordinary too ...

listen to this miraculous version :

Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto - Gieseking/Karl Böhm (1939)