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Bach: Andras Schiff (French Suits Nos.1-6/ Overture In B Minor/ Italian Concerto) [DVD]  [NTSC]
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András Schiff, born in 1953 in Budapest, is nowadays one of the most appreciated and distinguished pianists in the world. Magically, he brings life into pieces, makes them breathing and swinging and keeps up almost forgotten ideals of piano playing. Thus, he is not only a great pianist, but also a professional whose view is not limited on piano music, but who has wide knowledge of the broad field of macro culture. This enables him to play the piano which always makes sense to his own point of view. Surely Bachs French Suites, which he composed during his years at Cöthen (17171723), are among the finest inducements to practise that any teacher has ever made to a pupil. In this case Bach wrote them for his young wife, Anna Magdalena. The over-riding impression left by these suites is one of endearing tunefulness. Clavier-Übung II is a later collection of didactic keyboard pieces. It comprises two greatly contrasted works: the Italian Concerto and the Overture in the French Style. These performances admirably demonstrate the thoughtful and persuasive approach that András Schiff adopts when performing Bach. The Concert Recording is accompanied with some interviews with András Schiff, which enriches and completes the great experience of the concert. During the interview, Schiff sits at the Steinway piano and explains the French Suites which J. S. Bach composed during 1722 and 1725 for Cembalo, but also its closeness to Bachs Goldberg variations and Orchestra suites. He plays a short passage of a Suite, explains it and plays again, but then he interrupts himself once again. This happens without script but with refreshing spontaneity and directness. Completing this part, you can see András Schiff at the Thomas Church and Bach Museum where he talks about Bachs years in Leipzig, his musical and personal development.
Shiffs flexible tempo style that results from his thinking in the bigger picture, is perhaps the most compelling aspect of his pianism. Here someone manages the seemingly impossible synthesis of delicate sparkling single notes and much more widely thought architecture. mA music that seems to reach into infinity, funny as Scarlatti or Haydn distinguished, witty - and uplifting beautiful. --Leipziger Volkszeitung
It is a heavenly prospect-Andras Schiff live performing of all six of Bach's french Suites.Throw in the less well-known Overture in the French style and the Italian Concerto as a generous encore,and the result is over two hours of unalloyed joy. Performance ***** Recording **** --BBC Music Magazine,Apr'11
It's all about the bottom line-which on this taping is nicely nuanced by Schiff. --Gramophone,May'11
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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.
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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