Mozart is the most pervasively dramatic composer in history. The spirit of opera informs very nearly his every work. Themes are characters; characters interact; they change. András Schiff’s alertness to the dialogue in Mozart is reflected both in his acute sense of characterisation and his immensely sophisticated use of articulation. Every line breathes. Not only that, every tone tells. Just as the voice in conversation subtly reflects the speaker’s state of mind, so Schiff’s deployment of sonority derives from an acute perception of the notes’ psychological as well as their purely musical character. This recording from the historical and stunningly beautiful Teatro Olimpico affords us numerous insights into Schiff’s approach to music and music-making, and more besides. Schiff’s joy in performance is as evident to the eye as to the ear.
Schiff’s performances are, as expected, profound, masterful, and not flashy at all. While he ornaments the works creatively, he doesn’t exaggerate. He is sometimes serious, sometimes playful, yet it’s clear just how much he understands and appreciates this music…
This recording is wonderful! Schiff in particular is clearly inspired, amused and transformed by the astounding young Mr. Mendelssohn. Try them yourself. If you don't smile and your pulse doesn't race a bit, you need to see a doctor as soon as possible.
ECM New Series is better known for its documentation of contemporary works, but the music of the past sometimes receives coverage when artists bring a new perspective to it. The Diabelli Variations, Op. 120; the Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111; and the Six Bagatelles, Op. 126, are among the most original and intellectually stimulating works Ludwig van Beethoven composed for the piano, and the sophisticated interpretations of András Schiff are especially worthwhile for their insights into authentic performance practice and reception. Here, Schiff gives the listener options between a relatively modern sounding version of the Diabelli Variations and a period interpretation, without favoring one or the other. On the first CD he plays the Sonata and the Diabelli Variations on a Bechstein piano from 1921, though with minimal pedaling and a restrained execution that allows every inner voice and subtle dynamic to be appreciated. While this piano is not as hard or bright sounding as a modern Steinway, it is familiar to modern ears and most listeners will readily accept it. On the second CD, Schiff plays the Diabelli Variations, along with the Six Bagatelles, on a smaller sounding Franz Brodmann fortepiano, an original instrument from around 1820, Beethoven's time period.
Involving, as it does, three master musicians and a fine chamber orchestra this was never likely to be be other than rewarding. It may not correspond with the ways of playing Mozart at the beginning of the twenty-first century which are fashionable at the beginning of the twenty-first century, but it has virtues – such as high intelligence, sympathy, certainty of purpose, grace, alertness of interplay – which transcend questions of performance practice. Looking at the names of the pianists above, we might be surprised by the presence of Sir Georg Solti, so used are we to thinking of him as a conductor. But the young Solti appeared in public as a pianist from the age of twelve and went on to study piano in Budapest, with Dohnányi and Bartok.