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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Schiff's Magisterial Bach, 23 Jan 2011
J Scott Morrison (Middlebury VT, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Bach: Andras Schiff (French Suits Nos.1-6/ Overture In B Minor/ Italian Concerto) [DVD] [2011] [NTSC] (DVD)
András Schiff has been lauded for decades for his playing of Bach. His performances tend to draw lavish praise (and occasional disapproval: I remember not liking his 'Goldberg Variations' set the first time I heard it and then grew to love it immoderately over time). This DVD of his performance of the six French Suites is a logical follow-up to his earlier DVD of the English Suites Bach: English Suites. He plays the suites in numerical order in what looks to be a smallish space in a Protestant church in Leipzig during the Bachfest in the summer of 2010. He had, of course, earlier recorded (audio only) the French Suites to general acclaim Bach: The Six French Suites and these present performances do not vary markedly from those. As you likely know, his playing of Bach is marked by smoothness (no Gouldian staccato here) and utter clarity of the polyphonic strands. There is no Romantic stretching or dramatic shaping of phrases, no major variation of dynamic, but tone is varied beautifully and completely at the service of the music. Audio for this DVD is nigh perfect. He is playing a Hamburg Steinway that was customized by Angelo Fabbrini. Schiff and Maurizio Pollini have recenetly been dedicated to Fabbrini's pianos and one can hear why; the sound of this piano is simply gorgeous and clearly it responds sensitively to Schiff's touch. The concert ends with Schiff playing Bach's Overture in the French Style in B Minor, BWV 831 and finally the Italian Concerto in F Major, BWV 971.

There is a second DVD lasting just over 30 minutes. It is entitled, rather inaccurately 'András Schiff Explains Bach'. Better is should be called 'András Schiff Talks About Bach.' It is filmed in the same church and features for most of its length a head-and-shoulders shot of Schiff sitting, relaxed on a bench, and speaking in monolog. He speaks in German; there are subtitles available in English and French. He appears to be a gentle, soft-spoken man whose reverence for Bach is evident. He mentions starting every day, when there is a piano available, by playing Bach for about an hour. (I seem to remember that Rostropovich did the same thing -- at the piano, not the cello.) Schiff calls Bach the 'greatest composer of all time' -- just as Anthony Tommasini has just done in today's New York Times -- and expresses awe at the amount of music Bach wrote. 'It has been calculated that if one simply copied out his all his music by hand it would take several decades.' He also comments that no one in today's hurlyburly could find the silence that Bach required to do his work. (He points out that Bach always worked in a room away from his home with all its noisy children.) He speaks at length about the music in the French Suites, pointing out something I'd never quite realized -- that the first three are in minor keys, the last three in major keys. And he points out that Bach would never have expected anyone to play all of them in order in a concert. 'It takes a madman like me to do that.' The last five minutes or so show Schiff sitting at the piano, talking about the structure of the French Overture in B Minor, demonstrating at the keyboard. Fascinating and illuminating.

One could wonder, I suppose, why one would want to watch a DVD of someone playing the piano, but the videography is such that certainly for students of the piano Schiff's playing could be instructive. He is one of those pianists whose entire energy flows through his arms and hands, while he sits quietly with none of the bodily dramatics that some pianists indulge in. Seeing the undemonstrative majesty in his playing adds to the aural experience.


Scott Morrison
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine Bach playing on the piano, 14 Nov 2011
I. Giles (Argyll, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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Andras Schiff is not a naturally demonstrative player. Rather, he is a thoughtful musician who can be relied upon to deliver deeply considered views of the music he is playing - as if playing to himself. This does not necessarily make for riveting viewing but it certainly makes for a satisfyingly musical experience as demonstrated here.

For this reason I was not bothered by the choice of piano rather than an earlier keyboard instrument such as Bach might have envisioned. Nothing is attempted that is out of style in that respect and this belongs to that select group of recordings where doubts concerning the use of a piano are rendered irrelevant in the face of the relevancy of the interpretation that we are offered.

The concert is very long and comes with a substantial encore bonus, the popular and well-known Italian Concerto. It is unlikely that a 'better' performance or recording will be issued soon so this is something of a 'must buy' if the music attracts you. However, I am glad to be watching it in the comfort of my own home - those church pews look awfully hard and uncomfortable!

Good surround sound in DTS 5.1 as well as stereo and sympathetic camera work complete a very desirable package. I would expect this to give considerable satisfaction to future purchasers with the exception of those diametrically opposed to the use of a piano. There is thus every reason to suggest that this disc is worth the full 5 star rating.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Rare Opportunity indeed., 3 Jan 2012
Bernard Rosewalll "beowulf" (united kingdom) - See all my reviews
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I started collecting Schiff's cds in the 80s, especially his Bach recordings. In an interview on this disc, Schiff says he regards Bach as the greatest of all composers, and it came as no surprise to me because his love, reverence and understanding for and of Bach has been evident in every recording I possess. Schiff is one of those musicians - fast becoming a rarity these days - who does not place himself before the music, but allows Bach to speak through every note, phrase and voice. Schiff then is no showman, but is rather the antithesis of one. Those of you who buy this recording will not buy it because 'it's worth watching' The camera work is as unobtrusive as the artist. I think and hope you'll buy it because it offers the opportunity of watching a great artist unobtrusively producing some of the world's greatest music written for the keyboard. A rare opportunity indeed.
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