For his time, Schnabel was certainly a "scholar of the piano," as he is called in the title of this EMI box set. He was better read than most of his contemporaries, and his interpretations of the central Austro-Germanic repertoire are thoroughly informed by his insights into the music and knowledge of the composers. But the appellation only goes so far in describing Schnabel's playing. Hearing him for the first time, his impetuous performances, reckless tempo changes, sometimes sloppy technique, and above all his highly poetic interpretations leave the impression of a highly emotional, even spiritual player rather than that of a scholar. His rhapsodic account of Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, his ethereal reading of Mozart's C major Piano Concerto, and his sublime accounts of Beethoven's final three piano sonatas, all highlights of this collection, are perfect examples of this quality.
So, the choice of title risks alienating listeners who disdain intellectualism in music as well as listeners looking for urtext recordings. And, for many contemporary listeners, the mere fact that most of these recordings come from the pre-stereo era and feature sound that is honest and atmospheric but hard and close will be enough to put this set out of the competition. But Schnabel was certainly among the greatest German pianists of his century, and anyone sufficiently interested in the repertoire will have to try him.