SIR ANDRÁS SCHIFF

CD REVIEWS

Beethoven: Piano Sonata Op 111; Diabelli Variations; Bagatelles Op 126 (ECM)

The Guardian - 3 October 2013

"There are two sets of Diabelli Variations in Andras Schiff's collection of Beethoven's last three piano works, both in their very different ways period performances.  On the first of the two discs, which also includes the C minor Sonata Op 111, Schiff plays the instrument he used for his memorable Beethoven cycle at the Wigmore Hall last season, a Bechstein, made in 1921, on which Wilheim Backhaus regularly gave recitals and made recordings.  On the second, which follows the Diabelli with the Op 126 Bagatelles, he plays a fortepiano made in Vienna by Franz Brodmann around 1820; Schiff now owns the instrument and has lent it to the Beethoven-haus in Bonn, where the recordings were made. 

Both discs are enthralling." Andrew Clements

Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier

The Times - 14 September 2012

"Schiff plays with hands alone, avoiding sounds that linger and fade for the delights of the sober, the centred, and clean."

"Impersonal playing? Not at all.  But the personality on display is Bach's rather than Schiff's.  And full pleasure comes with close concentration as Schiff, without frills or deviation, leads us straight to the music's heart.  You'll never see this musician looking wistful and wan, sinking into his bath." Geoff Brown

Andras Schiff: Schumann 'Geistervariationen' (ECM New Series)

Herald Scotland - 25 September 2011

"Here is a double CD set of astounding importance; an instant classic and immediately one of this reviewer's discs of the year.  Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff we know well in Scotland, through what was effectively an annual residency at the Edinburgh International Festival. He is an unparalleled Schumann pianist, with as keen an insight into the uniquely playful spirit that belongs to the composer as he has into the virtuosic and soulful strands of Schumann's music.  This glorious set - and it is compelling listening - ranges widely, from the youthful Papillons and the First Sonata to the very end, with the little-known Ghost Variations.  It also features the finest, most thrilling and moving performance of the great Fantasie in C major that I have heard, which contains a total shock in the original version of the finale, subsequently rewritten by Schumann.  Schiff includes both versions.  His is a supreme set; an absolute must."  Michael Tumelty.  

Bach: Six Partitas, BWV 825-830

The Observer - October 2009

"This is just marvellous.  Over a quarter of a century since Schiff first taped these pieces for Decca, ECM (the Gramophone award-winning label of the year) has recorded him again in the ideal acoustic of the Neumarkt Reitstadel.  Every note of the music is in Schiff's blood and, through his recent experience of conducting, he seems to have absorbed varied instrumental textures, breathtaking spontaneity, extrovert ornamentation, and whimsical rhythmic freedom.  In an unusual order, starting with the cheerful Fifth Partita, the lyrical First, the imperious Second, and the exuberant Fourth lead to the infinite melancholy of the Sixth's opening fugue in E minor, over which the sun suddenly breaks as the music slips into G major: perfect."  Nicholas Kenyon

Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol IV op 26, op 27 (1 and 2), & op 28

BBC Music Magazine - August 2007

"Andras Schiff's Beethoven Sonata cycle, continues to be stimulating and provocative, always forcing one to hear such familiar music in a new light.  As he approaches the final sonatas of the composer's early period, Schiff makes us fully aware of the enormous stylistic and emotional journey that Beethoven had traversed from his first essays in the medium.  A magnificent release."  Erik Levi

Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol III Op 14 (1 &2), Op 22 & Op 49 (1 & 2)

The Observer - December 10 2006

"This third volume of the complete Beethoven Sonatas, which Schiff is taking in chronological order, combines the four smaller sonatas, Op 14 and 49 with the larger, magisterial Op 22, no 11 in B flat major.  As always, Schiff is a master of detail, often rephrasing bars you thought you knew well, coming up with fine nuances while never losing sight of the work's overall architecture.  Recorded live in Zurich's Tonhalle, thanks to Schiff's belief that it's vital to play in front of an audience, this is a distinguished instalment in an outstanding cycle." Anthony Holden

Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol II Op 10 (1-3) & Op 13 (Pathetique)

The Times - April 2006

"Nice and pleasant isn't possible with Beethoven, Schiff remarks in the excellent notes to this second volume in his ongoing ECM cycle.  To prove the point he plays the three Op 10 sonatas and the Pathetique with forthright tone and terse attack, emphasising their revolutionary spirit and striving for orchestral effects.  The manner equally pays off when Beethoven jokes: Op 10 No 2 becomes a comedy of darting fingers." Geoff Brown

Beethoven Piano Sonatas Vol I op 2 (1-3) & op 7

Sunday Times - 6 November 2005

"The Hungarian pianist is a fastidious and methodical completist, so it should come as no surprise that he begins his "live" traversal of the 32 with the already characteristic Op 2 set of three sonatas and the single work of Op 7, written in the composer's twenties. His brilliant articulation in the allegros, prestissimo (Op 2, No 1) and minuets and scherzos brings a pristine clarity to this much-played music. Some traditionalists may find his quasi-authentic approach mannered, but it is rare to hear such crisp fingerwork and unmuddied textures on the modern piano. Throughout the series, Schiff will use a Steinway for the more virtuosic pieces and a Bosendorfer for works that require a heavier sonority. If the results match this volume, we are in for a memorable and individual cycle." HC

Gramophone - December 2005

"The first thing that struck me over the course of listening was the actual sound of Schiff's Steinway, whose remarkable timbral differentiation between registers is akin to instruments of Beethoven's time, or the mellow 'ping' characterising many of today's Bosendorfer grands. It doesn't hurt, too, that Schiff's multi-levelled technique and profound stylish perception work hand-in-glove. Given this pianist's seasoned expertise as a Bach player, his fastidious care with voice-leading and executing turns, trills, and other ornaments should come as no surprise."

"What's more, Schiff's acute attention to Beethoven's  subito dynamics and inner voices brings unusual intensity to passages such as the syncopations in the development section of Op 2 No 1's first movement. For breathtaking variety of articulation, listen to Op 2 No 2's Largo appassionato, where the staccato bass notes are duly short yet more resonant than usual, or the marked contrast between the Rondo's songful outer sections and vehement central minor-key episode."

"But Schiff proves equally capable of conveying the music's implicit drama within a few short strokes. Notice how he eases his way into the first movement's opening measures as if sneaking on stage, timing out the rests a split second longer than they're notated, then decisively establishing Beethoven's Allegro con brio directive at the first fortissimo (bar 13)."

"Schiff's absorbing interpretations shed fresh light on thrice-familiar works and are guaranteed to grow on you." Jed Distler

BBC Music Magazine - January 2006

"In the three Op 2 Sonatas, Schiff demonstrates the radical and multi-faceted emotional nature of these early works most effectively. Using a Fabbrini piano which boasts a brilliant high register as well as more defined bass, he is able to conjure up a sound that bears some relationship to the fortepiano of Beethoven's day whilst offering a distinct advantage in terms of drawing out important inner lines in the music. The approach too is more fanciful than one might expect for early Beethoven, allowing Schiff the necessary latitude to emphasise the lyrical as well as the intense nature of Beethoven's musical language. A good point of comparison here is the almost dreamy textures Schiff achieves in the Finale of the A major as opposed to the raging torrent of sound that characterises the equivalent movement in the F minor. The first movement of the big C major Sonata is conceived very much on orchestral lines with a dramatic variety of colouring and characterisation, as well as an unexpected use of the sustaining pedal. In keeping with his overall conception, the E flat Sonata is presented as an even more radical departure, its expressive qualities almost anticipating Schubert."

"Throughout this finely recorded set, Schiff highlights plenty of musical details that tend to be bypassed by other artists, and for this reason his performances deserve an enthusiastic recommendation." Erik Levi

Goldberg Variations

The Times - 17 October 2003

"Listen to the pianist Andras Schiff: 'A recording is a document of one's view of a piece of music at a given time. It's not a monument for eternity'. He is right, though if a recording and its interpretation reaches a sufficient  level of truth and beauty it can seem a monument to many - especially to those who promote a company's back catalogue.

Consider Bach's Goldberg Variations, one of the glories of Western art, written originally for the two-manual harpsichord.

Schiff's Decca account, recorded at Kingsway Hall in 1982, has also become a boon companion to many people for its clarity, subtlety, good sense, and singing lines.

Since no great artist stands still, Schiff has now issued another performace (ECM New Series ECM1825). The results may not appear hugely different, apart perhaps from ever-increasing crispness of his fingerwork; listen to the handcrossing whirlwind of the 14th variation and marvel.

Come closer, though. This is a recording from a concert in Basel, October 2001, and the shapes, the contrasts, and silences Schiff brings to the aria and its 30 variations very much suggest a living organism. We don't hear Schiff's breathing, but we certainly hear Bach's as he spins the theme into brilliant cascades, gentle musings, or intricate canons. What Landowska called the "black pearl" variation, the sombre 25th, provides the emotional climax, as it should; but the set is still governed by Schiff's light wit,his delight in Bach's genius, and the joy of a pleasure being shared." Geoff Brown

Gramophone Awards Issue 2003

"Familiar territory lovingly re-visited, though with plenty to say that's new"

"Hand on heart, can you listen to a harpsichord for that long? Meaning an hour and a quarter of Bach's Goldberg Variations. There's nothing like coming clean on the issue of 'period' performance, and I have to confess that for much of the time I'm with Andras Schiff 100 per cent. Whatever your likes or dislikes in the Goldbergs, Schiff will surely elicit a positive reaction, more so than with his 1982 Decca recording which although similarly felicitous had little of the daring, imagination and sheer scale of this 2001 live re-make.

And there are other surprises. The princely alla breve tenth variation is initially low-key, but Schiff effects a gradual crescendo so that what started out as reserved ends with imperious resolve. This is a fascinating, beautiful, deeply pondered and profoundly pianistic Goldbergs, and while not 'authentic' in the accepted scholarly sense, it is appreciative of Baroque manners and ornamentation. It also employs the Urtext of the New Bach Edition.

Schiff concedes that to try to convince the wary that Bach 'works' on the piano is as useless as 'trying to make carnivores out of vegetarians'. So let's say that while he is undoubtedly a carnivore, he's most definitely 'organic'; in other words, he knows his meat and knows what is good. Schiff 01 is essential for those who want to listen beyond the notes." Rob Cowan

 

 

 

 

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