András Schiff is one of those rare musicians who is rewarding to listen to in both word and deed. In his outstanding Guardian lecture series, Schiff makes the point that these Opus 10 sonatas were, for commercial reasons, intended for the amateur market. Compared to the previous sonatas (opp2 & 7), they are shorter and technically less demanding - while remaining characteristically uncompromising. And, although early works, these are certainly no apprentice pieces. Schiff makes some illuminating observations: that the word amateur derives from 'amatori', suggesting passion rather than lack of prowess; and that the 'fate motif' in the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth makes its first appearance in the Sonata No1 in c, for instance.
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.
on 11 October 2009
These ECM recordings by Andras Schiff were reccomended to me by my Hi-Fi dealer. Piano music has not always been my favourite type
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.
What happens in this Beethoven Cycle is a measure of one of the greatest features of Andras Schiff's playing. He thinks through the music (see the download page on Guardian Unlimited page for his analyses) and arrives at an interpretation that both combines intellectual rigour, emotive insight and profound pianistic fluidity.
The narrative trajectory of the sonatas is key and, like the Well Tempered Clavier, Schiff has opened up this cycle for me.