András Schiff

Franz Schubert: Sonatas & Impromptus

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It was a surprise to many when pianist András Schiff took up the playing of historical instruments in mid-career, but by now he is generally acclaimed as one of the few players who can draw equally good results from both historical pianos and modern ones. The 1820 Viennese instrument by Franz Brodmann heard here has appeared on several of his recordings, and you can see why he acquired it (when not in action, it lives on loan at the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn). The instrument fits his style, his sensitivity of touch combined with driving forward energy, in a remarkable way. It has four pedals to modulate the dynamics, with the result that even though you are at no point in the top of the dynamic range of a modern piano, you feel it's quite a ride. Superficially, you may miss the dreamy, Schumann-like languidness of the Four Impromptus, D. 899, but the detail more than makes up for it. Sample the A flat impromptu, which gives an idea of the different tonal qualities of the fortepiano across its range, and allows Schiff to confound your expectations at multiple points: the first lyrical triple-meter theme seems to be pointing toward something larger, which in turn is delivered in the second part of the work. Instead of D. 935 Impromptus with which the D. 899 set is usually paired, Schiff chooses the Drei Klavierstücke, D. 946, which are really big, powerful impromptus, and Schiff gets to display yet more of his instrument's capabilities. The two late sonatas included offer the same virtues written on a larger scale, and they both give much to and require much of the listener. Best of all is ECM's sound; recorded at the Beethoven-Haus, the environment lets every detail of the piano's sound come through. An extraordinary release, born of deep familiarity with music and technology on the part of all concerned.

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