Review by: Jed Distler
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 9
As with his earlier ECM Schubert release, András Schiff performs on a six-octave, four-pedal Viennese Franz Brodmann fortepiano dating from around 1820, and characterized by intimate, twangy sonorities (the so-called bassoon pedal produces a fascinating “buzzy” sound) and striking timbral differentiation between registers. Schiff’s Schubert has never really been about drama and power, yet his earlier Decca recordings on a modern concert grand sound comparatively large-scaled and incisive next to his period-instrument remakes, while one hears more dynamism and rhythmic backbone from Andreas Staier’s fortepiano versions of the C minor and A major posthumous sonatas. But if you meet Schiff halfway, you’ll find subtle strength and authority behind the often soft-grained surface.
The pianist articulates the D. 959 Scherzo’s arpeggiated chords with finely honed shifts in voicing and meaning, together with unexpected yet logical melodic accentuations. He justifies his deliberate, slightly square-cut pacing for the C major Klavierstücke (D. 946 No. 3) by giving shapely prominence to the off-beat left-hand chords. The desolate virtuosic outburst capping D. 959’s slow movement gains intensity when Schiff pedals through harmonic changes, because the instrument’s relatively short sustaining capacity yields an evocatively cloudy soundscape: try that on a modern piano and the effect invariably turns to mud.
At first Schiff seems to hold back D. 958’s galloping finale, but the movement assiduously gathers momentum, propelled by stinging accents that highlight harmonic surprises. The D. 899 Impromptus stand out for Schiff’s poise and control, although No. 4 sounds relatively notey and lethargic compared to the similarly understated yet more fluent Decca version. But the fortepiano E-flat major (D. 946 No. 2) traversal boasts a warm and flexible right-hand cantabile, complemented by conversational left-hand support. In sum, Schiff remains a serious, stimulating, sometimes quirky artist who stands by the courage of his convictions, and refuses to rest on his past interpretive laurels.
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Recording Details:Reference Recording: D. 958: Brendel (Vanguard); D. 959: Pollini (DG), D. 899: Perahia (Sony); D. 946: Pires (DG)
- SCHUBERT, FRANZ:Piano Sonatas No. 18 in C minor D. 958 & No. 19 in A major D. 959; Impromptus D. 899; Three Piano Pieces D. 946
- András Schiff (fortepiano)
- ECM - 2535 36