Robert Silverman Performs, Re-records Beethoven's Piano Sonatas

Even as editing continues on his forthcoming Stereophile recording of Brahms' Handel Variations and Schumann's Symphonic Études, Canadian pianist Robert Silverman is set to perform and re-record all 32 of Beethoven's piano sonatas. Silverman's eight-concert series of Beethoven sonata performances and recordings will take place in San Jose's lovely Le Petit Trianon Theatre, beginning this coming Thursday, September 9 and ending on April 14, 2011.

The San Jose concert series, produced by Michael Silver of Audio High in Mountain View, California, will be recorded by Marc Willsher and mastered by Steve Hoffman, and will be available on both "Red Book" CDs and as high-resolution downloads. All proceeds from the concerts and recordings will go toward building an Elf Foundation Room of Magic at the Stanford Children's Hospital. The foundation creates Rooms of Magic—private entertainment theaters—that bring uplifting music and films to sick children around the country.

Silver and his wife have spent the last 13 years establishing and supporting, a nonprofit organization that helps raise money for various causes, particularly research into cystic fibrosis. The couple's daughter, now 17, lives with cystic fibrosis, and has been treated at the Stanford Children's Hospital her entire life. Every sale at Audio High contributes to, 100% of whose fundraising goes to nonprofit organizations.

The Audiophile Connection

Michael Silver first encountered the artistry of Robert Silverman in 2003, when he reviewed the latter's Live at the Chan Centre: 19 January 2003 (CD, OrpheumMasters KSP880, out of print, though limited quantities are still available at this website's Robert Silverman e-commerce page). "I listened to it over and over," he explained by phone. "I just loved it, especially the Liszt B Minor sonata. I'd listened to a lot of interpretations of this particularly difficult piece, and I just loved what he did. And I still do. It's a great performance."

After they'd gotten to know each other, Silverman became Silver's audio client and friend. "We have talked about doing this Beethoven for years," says Silver. "Robert is a great pianist, very smart, with wonderful and interesting interpretations. We actually brought Robert to San Francisco to perform the complete Mozart sonatas a few years ago, but we didn't record them." Those honors have instead gone to Ray Kimber, whose eight-disc set of multichannel SACDs of the Mozart sonatas, mastered by Graemme Brown, should be out on Kimber's IsoMike label by the end of 2010.

Reached in Vancouver, British Columbia, Silverman, now 72, explained that his interest in high-end audio began in his teens. "In the late '50s, I owned a Leak DL10 mono amp. (Put it in—some people will remember it.) Eventually I got connected with Stereophile through a friend of Larry Archibald's. Though them, I met all the other guys. My first Stereophile recording was Intermezzo, the Brahms album, in 1991 [CD, Stereophile STPH003-2]."

Beethoven and Silverman's Career

Robert Silverman expounds at length on Beethoven's masterworks for solo piano at Asked to sum them up, he declared Beethoven's sonatas "absolutely central" to the canon of piano music.

"There have been many other great works written for piano, but Beethoven's have never been surpassed. There isn't anything more fun and exhilarating than restudying them for my second go-through. It's been an exploration of what a smart musician Beethoven was and how many things he took care of. No matter what insights you come up with, Beethoven is ahead of you."

Silverman's discography of more than 30 CDs and a dozen LPs includes a disc of Liszt works that received a Grand Prix du Disque from the Liszt Society of Budapest. His out-of-print 1990 recording of the Beethoven sonatas was short-listed for a Juno Award (Canada's equivalent of the US's Grammy Awards). A member of the faculty of the University of British Columbia for 30 years, Silverman served for five years in the 1990s as Director of the institution's School of Music, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree in 2004. While he now devotes himself full-time to concertizing and recording, and turned down an offer to join the faculty of Canada's finest music school, McGill University's Schulich School of Music, for the 2010–11 academic year, he will visit McGill three times in that period to intensively teach piano, and to give one solo recital and two lecture-recitals.

"The question of building a career is something I come back to many times," he said toward the end of our talk. "I did what I did. I decided, for whatever reason, that I was going to teach. I always enjoyed it, and I didn't mind not having to worry about where my next dime is coming from. I think I know me pretty well, and probably I did what I should have been doing.

"One place where I really was very lucky was that I got enough opportunities to make recordings that did get heard. While some pianists are too busy running around from one festival to another to have time to record, I'm leaving a legacy I'm fairly proud of. How many pianists get to record the Beethoven sonatas twice in their career? Besides Arrau, Barenboim, Brendel, and Kempff, I don't think anyone else has traversed them more than once."

Silverman will also perform the complete Beethoven sonatas in Vancouver's Jazz Cellar on Broadway, in an eight-concert series beginning September 27 and ending April 5, 2011.