Sunday, May 25, 2008

In Review---Beloved & Deaf Beethoven

Andràs Schiff
Ludwig van Beethoven The Piano Sonatas Vol. VI
ECM New Series

Hungarian classical pianist Andràs Schiff took up the gauntlet of recording the Beethoven cycle (piano sonatas) in order. Ludwig van Beethoven The Piano Sonatas, Volume VI brings us up to the period between 1804 and 1810, during which the infamous "Appassionata" was composed. The works on this recording, Sonatas #22 through #26, explore a vast range of emotions, colors and textures--a range that seems like a piece of cake in Schiff's expressive hands.

I have reviewed volumes II and III of this series and have been astounded by Schiff's immense gift as a pianist. While he fits into the realm of virtuoso, he does not appear to be showing off. His playing is absent of bravado and full of humanity, not to mention curiosity towards Beethoven's life and music, since one informs the other. Not only that, one of my favorite things to do is to crank up the volume on these recordings so that I feel like the pianist is in the room with me playing this divine music.

Since I have already reviewed two other recordings from this series, I am going to include excerpts from those reviews here. This is one of those collections where including all the volumes in your collection is highly recommended.

Review excerpt for Volume II:

I know little about Hungarian pianist Andràs Schiff, except for his views about Beethoven's piano sonatas which appear in the liner notes of his ECM recording, Ludwig van Beethoven The Piano Sonatas, Volume II. Yet, I do not need to know anything about this interpreter of Beethoven's music in order to feel satisfied when I listen to this recording. Schiff does not just interpret notes on a score or fret about tempi, which a lot of musicians might do. He interprets and even anticipates Beethoven's contradictory moods.

It's almost as if he is channeling the composer's ghost into the room. Musical phrases alternate between a chuckle here and extreme frustration or implosive anger. Sweet lyrical passages flutter like butterflies discovering the spring sun for the first time, then are stomped on by some shaggy beasts represented by banging keys in the lower registers.

It is like I said earlier, a musician must be possessed in some way to play this music well and be fearless of the gamut of emotions of the human experience. Schiff's fearlessness serves him well in that regard, that and the fact that he had befriended one of the musical grandfathers of classical music, even to the point of second guessing the composer's intentions such as on the "Pathetique" sonata…(partial review).

Review Excerpt from Volume III:

Hungarian pianist Andràs Schiff has taken on the formidable task of recording chronologically all of Ludwig van Beethoven's 32 sonatas. Volume II of the series has already been reviewed on this site. The Piano Sonatas Volume III marries the romance of Brahms with the joie de vide of Mozart, and often times delving into the brooding territory associated with Beethoven.

We hear rolling arpeggios and trills, an intense range of dynamics, a lyrical sweetness that crosses swords with angry tantrums that are uniquely Beethoven. Allegro con brio of Sonata No. 11 B flat major op. 22, composed in 1800, features phrases that end on exclamation points, declaring their presence.

With so much passion and moodiness, a pianist or interpreter could easily overstate one's case, but Schiff, although extremely expressive, is light on the keys. He plays those exclamation points, but he also honors silence between the notes and I can feel a gleefulness leaping off this recording. His left hand and right hand are in perfect concord and the playing magical...(partial review)

Visit Cranky Crow Whole Music for the full-length reviews of these works.

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