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on 15 March 2016
First and foremost, it’s a pleasure when the Generalissimo of the Five Star Martyrs’ Brigade (and registered Culture Vulture) John Kwok waddles into gun-range. Let’s critique his review first:

“Andras Schiff's splendid traversal of the Beethoven piano concerto cycle is definitely one worth owning. His performances are richly steeped in lyricism and poetic beauty (OK, the first of the brocades has made an appearance). They are also steeped (JK, what would John Updike say of your use of the same verb in successive sentences?) in the fiery dramatic tension that I've come to expect from the likes of Arrau and Kempff (not many people would associate the latter with these qualities but there you go). Of the current crop of distinguished pianists, Schiff is the only one (JK – really???) who comes close to scaling the emotional heights shown by Arrau and Kempff (alas, the dynamic duo are wheeled out again in a sea of generalisations). His transcendant (sic) performances are as good as those of Kovacevich and Perahia too (JK is name-dropping at this point). Unlike Perahia, Schiff is better at stressing the lyrical qualities of the piano, though it lacks some of the emotional intensity and drama that I've heard with Perahia's Sony cycle with Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra (General Generalisation condemns this murky sentence and so do I – and JK just said before that Schiff delivers “fiery dramatic tension” so how does one harmonise these juxtapositions????). For example, Schiff's performances of the 4th and 5th piano concerti are among the most lyrical I have yet heard (this is the third time that JK has used the word ‘lyrical’ or variants thereof). Speaking of Haitink (here we go), his conducting of the Dresden Staatskapelle is exemplary, and is comparable to his excellent work with the Concertgebouw Orchestra (some would say this is not a good thing). However, due to Teldec's state of the art digital recording, the sound quality is substantially better (than what?). Most noteworthy are the fine performances of the woodwind and string sections (JK, why not throw in the brass as well for a full house?). If you are looking for one superb Beethoven piano concerto cycle (I’m not), then this has to be it. Otherwise, it belongs on the shelf (gathering dust?) with the exceptional cycles of Kempff, Arrau (either with Haitink or Davis conducting, though I give the nod to Davis), Kovacevich and Perahia.”

Having thrown water into the sea, let’s move on. First and foremost, my usual parameters apply here: I’ll not bother with the first two concertos. In their modesty, it could well be that Haitink and Schiff deliver the goods.

The first horror here is Schiff’s Appassionata – the so-called bonus. Much to my surprise, it has yet to receive the opprobrium that it deserves (as much as I relish Jurgen’s review). There comes a point where the word “bowdlerisation” runs out of puff: here is one instance. Being devoid of angst, fear and anything luciferous, this account could be likened to a minor character from Downton Abbey – say, Mister Smedley-Caruthers Esquire of the local council who’s not allowed to eat at the high table after he dropped a naughty word – like “fiddlesticks” - in earshot of the Vicar who’s rather shocked by his intemperance and lack of breeding. That’s my personification of this outing. Thin lipped, narrow of tone and scared of itself, this could be the wimpiest, most carbon-neutral Appassionata in history. To paraphrase the Penguin Guide, when Brendel (of all people) is kicking sand in one’s face in Opus 57, it’s time to take up tiddlywinks as a hobby and forego the concert hall.

That leaves the major concertos. To my ears, given the convergence of two “Low Flamers” (Haitink and Schiff), they’re a double Death Star job. Politeness and refinement have limited application in this domain: FFS, this is Beethoven. almoner of the Eroica! Here, they’re in floodtide. Rarely if ever has the Emperor been so drained of spontaneous heroism – again, its lack of mojo is primarily attributable to the primness of the soloist (who could almost be playing a concerto by Haydn); even so, as demonstrated by the famous passage in the first movement’s prelude (here at 3’37”ff) where Beethoven seeks to burn down the house, Haitink plods along in imitation of his buddy. Further along at 6’47” where Beethoven asks the soloist to conjure a solar flare, Schiff waves his long-johns in the air as a show of defiance. The slow movement is earthbound: the soloist summons nothing from the dust. Ever so predictably, the exuberance of the finale is tempered by Schiff’s reticence which the conductor worsens. If nothing else, listen to the first eighteen seconds – please! There’s nothing else like it in discography. It’s so wimpy and listless, one wonders if Schiff lost a game of Old Maid in his youth and the trauma of the event never left him. And yes, András: don't you think the Joker laughs at you?

I’m not a fervent fan of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto; nevertheless, it deserves something better than this glorified stroll across the pedestrian crossing. Yet again, Schiff walks when he should run and whispers what be shouted from roof-tops. In the first movement, his daintiness transmutes every statement into mere passagework; the nadir surely comes at 6’30”ff where, rather than reproaching the orchestra, Schiff makes another daisy-chain. Does this music have no resonance in the scheme of things? This is an Opus 58 for Mary’s little lamb, so meek and so mild.

As Lent is upon us, I took a bullet for the team by listening to the Third Piano Concerto, a work I normally avoid like the pox. It was folly on my part. Whatever its merits might be, surely it deserves something more than this “Deification of Vanilla Ice-cream” approach. With all the herculean presence of the proverbial church-mouse, Schiff scurries in at 3’24” of the first movement after wiping his ever-so-clean shoes at the door, straightening his tie and neatly combing his hair. It’s all very nice of him to do so but what does it have to do with Beethoven? Further along at 7’48” – 9’18”, lethargy almost grinds the music-making to a complete halt. How a stall was averted is a mystery. The remaining two movements are just as pedestrian.

Throughout so much of the music-making here, the Staatskapelle Dresden gives the impression of a Maserati that is being driven tepidly like a Corolla. The wastage is felonious, particularly when the recording is as good as it is.

Again, Gresham’s Law in Reverse should doom this endeavour to Limbo; here and now, however, the perpetuity of on-tap downloads will avert entombment. To say that it’s an also-ran is a misnomer as it implies that its constituents were once running hell-for-leather for the prize of prize.

Die not of heat-death!
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on 24 August 2008
Andras Schiff's splendid traversal of the Beethoven piano concerto cycle is definitely one worth owning. His performances are richly steeped in lyricism and poetic beauty. They are also steeped in the fiery dramatic tension that I've come to expect from the likes of Arrau and Kempff. Of the current crop of distinguished pianists, Schiff is the only one who comes close to scaling the emotional heights shown by Arrau and Kempff. His transcendant performances are as good as those of Kovacevich and Perahia too. Unlike Perahia, Schiff is better at stressing the lyrical qualities of the piano, though it lacks some of the emotional intensity and drama that I've heard with Perahia's Sony cycle with Haitink conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra. For example, Schiff's performances of the 4th and 5th piano concerti are among the most lyrical I have yet heard. Speaking of Haitink, his conducting of the Dresden Staatskapelle is exemplary, and is comparable to his excellent work with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. However, due to Teldec's state of the art digital recording, the sound quality is substantially better. Most noteworthy are the fine performances of the woodwind and string sections. If you are looking for one superb Beethoven piano concerto cycle, then this has to be it. Otherwise, it belongs on the shelf with the exceptional cycles of Kempff, Arrau (either with Haitink or Davis conducting, though I give the nod to Davis), Kovacevich and Perahia.
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on 1 April 2016
Just being a music lover (of most kinds) and with no technical expertise, IMHO:
Overall. Excellent orchestral playing from Dresden Staatskapelle as usual, though I am not always a great fan of Haitink, who can be pedestrian. I'm a great fan of Schiff's Bach and I think he brings the same classical restraint and considered dynamics here, which is a change from the over-inflated romanticist executants. Particularly good in the sonata. Occasionally of course it can lack brio and showy virtuosity and appear a bit "same-ish" if you listen to more than one concerto at a time.

Piano Conc 1
Nice light orchestra but not lacking shading and contrast where needed, Haitink gets it just right from the off. Lovely second movement from Schiff and a good interplay between orchestra and piano. Third movement beautiful light and delicate touch from S., speed just right. Plenty of forward dynamic without rush. Classical approach especially pays off in this concerto.

Piano Conc 2
Ditto much of the above. Makes this often overlooked concerto a pleasure to hear. The muddy textures of some versions entirely absent here. Delicate touch where required from Schiff without being too slow where forward momentum needed.
Piano Conc 3
For me the crucial test in this concerto is the end of first movement - I've yet to hear any pianist bring it off. Nice tone from the orchestra but I feel more forward momentum needed in movt 1. Again sensitive playing by S. in second movt but a touch too slow for me, verging on romanticist slow but rescued by restraint, beautiful orchestral sound. Beautifully articulated playing by S. but a touch too slow at times, holding the orchestra on a lead. Nice moments but not the best of the five by any means.
Piano Conc 4
Beginning - which seems extraordinarily difficult to get right, Beethoven being a master of simplicity in profundity - ugh, too clipped by far imo, and first perceptions tend to spoil the rest. Movt 1 orchestra dragged a bit imho, perhaps because S. too slow. Movt 2 again too slow but nice interplay.
It seems to me this concerto very difficult to judge right but more brisk momentum pays off whereas most players seem to be seduced into languishing too much. Movt 3 begins well but also tends to give in to same tendency.

Piano Conc 5
Powerful opening but where S's restraint also stops in from degenerating into showy virtuosity. Orchestra also at its best. Great playing throughout.
Slower tempo pays off here due to the overall "weight" of the concerto. Great finale, the magnificent orchestral playing clear as a bell a joy to hear.
Full marks to Haitink.

Sonata - all the best qualities of Schiff's playing noted above were prominent here. Wonderful performance. On the strength of this I shall now seriously consider investing in Schiff's other sonatas, which I was not doing before.

Overall well worth owning, even if not at the very top notch combination of certain other past performances but definitely a 5* performance from a great pianist and superb orchestra. I'm no sound geek, but the quality of the recording sounded excellent to me and contributed greatly to one's enjoyment. certain other reviewers seem unable to consider performances on their own terms but in my view you can't decide the merits of any performance simply by contrasting it with what you may subjectively consider better performances of the past. It is possible to appreciate a performance as worthy of 5* even if it doesn't "do it" in all respects for you, just as I can appreciate someone's math workings for scientific problems beautiful even if I have a different one, even if it doesn't provide a "solution" for that matter.
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on 3 June 2013
... what a delightful interpretation and great sound recording.
As a long-time Mr. Andras Schiff and Beethoven "apassionado", I really recommend this complete "Piano Concertos" for everyone who really appreciate those two gentlemen.
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on 6 February 2013
I am going to a Schiff concert in the near future at which he will be playing two Mozart piano concertos on, to my dismay, a fortepiano. I once heard Emanual Ax playing Beethoven's Emperor on a fortepiano and could hardly bear to listen. Thank goodness Schiff, here, is playing on a pianoforte. Lovely performances from this pianist with Hiatink conducting a firstrate orchestra in excellent sound and at a bargain price. (Sorry to go on about my aversion to the fortepiano!)
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on 11 April 2010
I really cannot praise this CD more. Andras Schiff plays with such utter conviction and delicacy, this type of perfection is not an everyday occurence.
The third and fourth concertos are simply a delight.
A must have collection for all music lovers.
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on 28 May 2013
An excellent rendition of these classics; very pleasing to the ear and an excellent album to play at any time.
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