Beethoven: The Piano Sonatas, Volume II (Opp 10 & 13) CD
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International press reaction to the first volume of Schiff's Beethoven cycle was unanimous in their praise and many critics expressed their high expectations for the edition as a whole: "If the results match this volume we are in for a memorable cycle" - Sunday Times. And his concept to record the sonatas live and on two different pianos found much respect with reviewers. He plays each in 15 different cities before recording it: "I really feel that my performances get more mature from concert to concert. The repetitions are a very valuable lesson." As to his alternating use of a Steinway and a Bosendorfer, he emphasizes Beethoven's versatility and his great range of sonorities: "Most of his piano sonatas are rather lyrical pieces - they are poetic, philosophical, sometimes even humorous creations that don't 'bite' in the way the 'Pathetique' or the 'Hammerklavier' sonatas do. They have nothing in common with the cliche of the heroic and dramatic Beethoven. That's why I prefer the Bosendorfer in these works."
Schiff has repeatedly claimed that Beethoven's early sonatas need to be taken absolutely seriously as they offer highest compositional quality right from the start with Op 2. The Op 10 sonatas, written between 1796 and 1798 before he was 30, form a group of subtly interrelated masterworks. In Schiff's view they are pieces for "connoisseurs and amateurs", each displaying its own clearly defined character while the famous 'Pathetique' from 1798/99 introduces a dramatic attitude and a symphonic writing that was to become a central trait of some of Beethoven's most important works.
Schiff's Beethoven cycle on ECM continues this autumn with Volume III: the Sonatas Opp 11, 14 and 22.
Andras Schiff - piano
Top customer reviews
Serious alternatives to these sonatas on CD are thinner on the ground than they should be. That by Brendel (Philips) is marred by being a live recording, with enough coughs and splutters to hurry the soloist between movements. Brautigam's (BIS), played on authentic fortepiano, is very much an acquired taste. The pianist is excellent but the instrument refuses to 'sing' - to what would have been Beethoven's almost certain annoyance as well as ours. Kemp's third and final recording (DG), meanwhile, is annoyingly clipped and idiosyncratic in its phrasing. And so on.
If you are looking for a classic interpretation of Beethoven sonatas without wanting to go as far as the fortepiano, with its harsh tonalities and limited capacity to sustain, this is the one for you. Schiff plays with the utmost respect for this music. He doesn't allow himself liberties, even during the silences. As always, he gives the impression of being very much in tune with Beethoven who, as a pianist, habitually composed from the keyboard. He associates certain colours with specific instruments (eg horn), or certain textures with string quartet writing, for example. The ambition, therefore, is to make the piano a microcosm of the orchestra, and this wider understanding informs Schiff's playing. My only reservation concerns Schiff's keyboard. Some of the notes in the upper register sound uncomfortable and penetrating. If it weren't for the rich and resonating bass, I'd occasionally wonder if he weren't playing on Brautigam's fortepiano.
of music to listen to in the past, but these recordings of the Beethoven piano sonatas changed all that! So what makes them so good
you ask? Well where do I start - first off I would have to comment on the superb quality recordings - I believe that as one of the previous reviewers
pointed out, these were recorded in the correct right and left hand perspective as far as micing goes i.e imagine you are sat at the piano the left channel
recorded the low note end of the piano and the right side the high note end. Another interesting thing about these recordings is the way Schiff has interpreted
the music - some say and critiscise his rendition of "Moonlight" as too fast - I think that will come down to personal taste, but I find it refreshing. If you
are fortunate enogh to have a really good quality system then I think you will really apreciate these recordings as the music really does come alive for you, if
you close your eyes it seems as though you are listening to Schiff giving you your own personal concert in your living room, it is uncanny.
To sum up - great quality and very relaxing to listen to, and in my humble oppinion if these do not stir your musical emotions then probably nothing will.
The narrative trajectory of the sonatas is key and, like the Well Tempered Clavier, Schiff has opened up this cycle for me.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This volume (II) consists of four of the relatively early sonatas in Titan's output, namely the triptych op.10 and the following one, namely the celebrated "Pathetique" op.13. Useless to say, Schiff delivers unimpeachable interpretations which gain in their depth and charm by simply attending at the same time his illuminating (and witty) lectures.
Immersing into Beethoven's vast ocean of feelings and thoughts guided by such an exquisite artist as Andras Schiff - what an enthralling experience!
Although Schiff claims in the liner notes that he reads the F major sonata as a comic work, little of that humor actually translates into his reading. Schiff draws little humor from the coquettish flourishes that open the piece, nor do the petulant minor outbursts create any real sense of tension and release. The development zips by far too quickly and he creates nothing comic of the false recapitulation. Worse still, the finale lacks any sense of warmth or charm in Schiff's hands. He certainly makes the most of the counterpuntal nature of the work, but the proceeding has a wooden, almost perfunctory ennui that completely misses the mark. Conversely, the allegretto is delightful. Schiff magically coaxes a dark, murky tone from his instrument that is rapt with tension. Best of all, that very tension transitions into the trio magnificently, which incidentally features some of the best playing on the disc. He makes the most of music's somber poignancy, making the return of the minuet theme all the more haunting.
Opus 10, No. 3 features some wonderfully introspective playing from Schiff in the largo, taken at a flowing tempo which allows Schiff to articulate the various moods effectively. The menuetto, just shy of three minutes, is pure charm and the rondo appropriately punchy. The first movement is a bit more problematic, featuring wonderful technical precision married to lively tempos, but marred by a slightly mannered development. Schiff slight hesitations are just that, slight, but they are apparent enough to become tiresome after repeated listenings.
Surprisingly, the two c-minor sonatas are the best on the disc. Schiff (thankfully) trades in his delicate touch and somewhat mannered phrasing for strong rhythms and a sturdy tone.
The first of the opus 10 sonatas responds quite well to the instrument's brighter timbre. He creates some wonderfully dark sonorities in the opening allegro, although Schiff's clipping of the arpeggio theme is slightly aggravating. The second movement goes well enough, although suffering slightly due to the brittle tone in the upper register. The finale, however, is quite delightful. Schiff's nimble technique is dazzling as he navigates between the various moods, especially in the particularly punchy major episodes. By underplaying the coda, Schiff adds a tremendous amount of tension to the closing passages, unusually uneasy behind the mask of a major key.
The "Pathetique" is uniformly spectacular, his best conception within the cycle so far. The sonata opens with an appropriate gravitas that functions within the classical structural parameters of the work. The allegro has great vitality, energy, and a fresh spontaneity that is all together refreshing. And although I personally feel repeating the introduction with the exposition robs the development of some of its shocking novelty, so convincing is Schiff's commitment to his case that it does not bother me one bit. The freshness of the first movement ebbs over into the wonderfully flowing second movement. Schiff shakes off the romantic patina that this movement has amassed over the years, which makes the listening experience akin to seeing a newly cleaned and restored painting. Schiff's usual sensitivity of tone and tasteful accoutrements only add to this gem. Best of all, Schiff reads the finale as a classical rondo in the truest sense, making no attempt to instill grand drama where Beethoven intended none. The episodes fly by with delightful buoyancy, Schiff adding refined embellishments with each return of the rondo theme. The churlish clipping of the final chords is slightly gauche, but on the whole, Schiff succeeds in the seemingly impossible task of delivering a fresh "Pathetique" read (correctly) not as a romantic milestone but rather as a classical sonata struggling to find a voice for Beethoven's developing style.
All in all, the good out weigh the bad in this second release from Andras Schiff, whose cycle, if anything, will be musically fascinating. Although I will never warm to the harsh, overly-bright tone of his instrument, only exacerbated by the microphone placement, Schiff has more than enough to say to warrant adding this release to your collection. And while at times he can sound distant, calculated, or just plain bizarre, he is always saying something interesting, defending his choices with utmost conviction. Fascinating.
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