The latest of András Schiff’s period-instrument forays finds him to be, shall we say, a “well-tempered clavichordist”! He understands the little instrument’s capacity for nuance and variety of articulation, and brings to it the refined fingerwork and sophisticated linear interplay that informs his Bach pianism.
Interestingly, Schiff’s clavichord interpretations of the Two-Part Inventions and Three-Part Sinfonias don’t significantly differ from the piano versions he recorded nearly 40 years ago. He takes less time over the intensely chromatic F minor sinfonia than Peter Serkin, for example, yet expresses the music’s inherent melancholy. The D minor invention remains briskly witty, the E-flat invention still swaggers, but the E major sinfonia’s buoyancy seems to have deflated over time. However, Schiff brings a wider degree of freedom and harmonic tension to the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue than he did in his earlier Hungaroton and Decca piano recordings.
The Four Duets remain intelligently sculpted and paced, although I slightly prefer the A minor in Schiff’s more impetuous piano version. The dynamic contrasts distinguishing Schiff’s Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother on piano don’t consistently transfer to the clavichord. Yet the instrument’s delicate timbres ideally lend themselves to Schiff’s clear and transparent way with the opening three-voice fugue from The Musical Offering. As for ECM’s sonics, I’ve rarely heard a clavichord so mellifluously reproduced on disc. Certainly this release augers well for further Bach/Schiff clavichord encounters: a remake of the French Suites, perhaps?