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.
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.
When András Schiff completed the recording of all of Schubert's piano sonatas in the 1990s, Decca released a box set containing all of the individual discs from the series. For this 2011 reissue, Decca goes one step further and includes Schiff's recordings of the Impromptus, the Moments musicaux, and several other shorter works. Schubert's music, along with that of Bach and Mozart, is one of the cornerstones upon which Schiff built his reputation as a thoughtful and intelligent performer. Anyone looking for a complete set of the Schubert sonatas could do much worse than to choose this one by one of the foremost Schubert interpreters of his generation.
A countryman of Bela Bartók and a sometime teacher to both György Ligeti and György Kurtág, Sándor Veress emigrated to Switzerland from what was then part of Hungary in 1949. Settling in Bern, he collected various prizes and teaching posts while working in relative obscurity on who knows how many pieces–most of which have been unavailable. This collection is made up of a pithy trio of compositions dated 1938 (Six Csárdás), 1951 (Hommage à Paul Klee), and 1952 (Concerto for Piano, Strings, and Percussion), and they show what a deftly melodic force Veress was. He's thrilled by blustery string wafts, especially in the concerto, where the percussion adds drama and immediacy. But he also favors sweetly chipper string formations, which surprise the ear during the homage to Klee, especially given the dissonances fostered early on by the twin pianos. The closing piano miniatures of Six Csárdás are counterpoint-rich gems, played with sharp precision by András Schiff.
András Schiff is one of the most prominent members of a generation of Hungarian pianists born in the years following the Second World War, along with such artists as Zoltán Kocsis, Dezsö Ránki, and Jenö Jandó. Of this remarkable group, Schiff has achieved the greatest international reputation, due not only to his decision to pursue his career outside of Hungary, but also thanks to his finely shaded sense of touch and an impressive memory that allows him to present, in concerts and recordings, large portions of a composer's oeuvre.
First recorded collaboration between one of the leading sopranos of our time, Juliane Banse, and the incomparable pianist András Schiff. The programme is a fascinating combination of two different worlds of 'Liedgesang' - in language as well as musical style and historicity.