One of the truly great
pianists of our time has here been granted
an Artist Portrait, and a very good
one at that. Compilations like this
often tend to be filled with snippets
and hackneyed material. In this case
Warnera have managed to find repertoire
that shows the many-sided talent of
the artist, takes us to some unexpected
by-ways and, taken as a whole, constitutes
a very satisfying "concert".
We meet Andras Schiff, not only as a
solo pianist, but as concerto soloist
and chamber musician as well; in fact
almost two thirds of this disc is non-solo
work. And, finally, all of it is music-making
of the highest possible level. Since
this is Warner the choice of repertoire
has been limited to the Teldec catalogue,
for which Schiff has recorded only since
the mid-1990s. In other words, this
is fairly late Schiff (he was born in
1953, so "late" in this case
still means fairly young). He started
back in the 1970s recording for the
Japanese Denon label and then moved
over to Decca, where the greater part
of his recorded legacy is to be found
(his complete Mozart concertos and sonatas
for example). The present disc is a
very fine document in its own right.
Let me point to some of the highlights.
is one of the composer’s loveliest creations,
and Schiff at once shows his credentials:
his warmth, his beautiful tone, his
natural phrasing – all the hallmarks
of a great artist. At first I thought
he was too much on the fast side; even
Horowitz is slower. I have always thought
that the Arabic flower garlands suggested
by the title would produce music that
is more slow-motion than this, but he
soon won me over. And he is equally
good later in the programme, when he
returns to Schumann.
As a Hungarian, working
with a Hungarian Orchestra and conductor,
you would expect him to be cut out for
Bartók’s music – and he is. In
the first movement of Bartók’s
third concerto, he is slower than some,
notably Ashkenazy, whose recording with
Solti, made around 1980, is my bench-mark.
But there is no lack of bite, the balance
between soloist and orchestra is first-class,
he/they are rhythmically exact and at
3:05, after the French horn solo, Schiff
is surprisingly romantic, with sweeping
gestures, where Ashkenazy is more strict.
If the angels played
other instruments than the harp, I imagine
that they would form a piano trio and
play Schubert’s "Notturno".
This is heavenly music! I think Schubert
felt the same, for the piano part is
filled with arpeggios, harp imitations.
I couldn’t help repeating this track
several times and thought – still think
– that this can’t be bettered, either
as a composition or as an interpretation.
The instruments blend to perfection.
Handel’s B flat major
suite explores still another side of
Schiff’s music-making. Today everybody
plays harpsichord music on a concert
grand, but 25 years and more ago when
the period instrument movement was at
its strictest, it was a brave person
indeed who did. Schiff did. Here, in
a live recording from the Concertgebouw
in December 1994, he plays Handel’s
Prelude boldly and with a romantic sweep,
the Sonata more purely baroque, the
Aria is elegant, the Minuet aristocratic
Sándor Veress may not be a household
name, but he is considered by many to
be the most significant Hungarian composer
of the generation following Bartók
and Kodály. He studied with both
of them and even worked as Bartók’s
assistant at the Hungarian Academy of
Science in Budapest. Among his own pupils
are Ligeti and Kurtág. In 1949
he emigrated and settled in Berne, Switzerland,
where he taught at the Conservatory.
One of his pupils there was the oboist,
composer and, on this disc, conductor,
Heinz Holliger, who has championed Veress’s
work, both in concert and on records.
Veress composed extensively and was
partly strongly influenced by folk music
(an inheritance from Bartók?)
but also strayed into his own personal
brand of twelve-tone music.
Paul Klee, where Schiff is joined
by fellow-pianist Denes Varjon, was
written in 1951 and premiered in Berne
the following year. It is a substantial
work; playing time, according to the
score, is 27 minutes, so what we get
here is only a snippet, but an agreable
one. This is, if anything, neoclassicistic
and people who normally fight shy of
"modern" music need not fear.
This is very accessible. (1951 isn’t
really "modern", is it?)
More lovely trio music
comes in Mozart’s so called "Kegelstatt-Trio".
It is interesting to note that several
great composers were at their best when
writing for the clarinet. Mozart’s Concerto,
Quintet and this Trio were all written
near the end of his life; Brahms also
discovered the clarinet at the end of
his. Once again the playing is marvellous
and Schiff is not the star-pianist;
he is a fine musician making music with
Smetana’s piano music
is rarely heard, but this Polka in G
minor is a fine piece of music. It is
rather melancholy, but even if the sky
is cloudy you feel the sun is there
in the background and you imagine a
ray breaking through the clouds.
Few composers have
written more entertainingly for chamber
ensembles than Dvořák.
The music may not be “deep” but the
combination of melodies, rhythms and
sweet melancholy often makes you smile
while furtively wiping away a tear.
The piano quartet movement played here
dances; a soft, lilting waltz. Delicately
And what could be a
more fitting conclusion to a concert
featuring one of the great piano poets
of our time than the finale of Beethoven’s
loveliest piano concerto, the fourth?
Staatskapelle Dresden under Haitink
are in their element here, as of course
is András Schiff.
A mixed bag it is,
but everything is on the highest possible
level. I recommend it dearly to anyone
interested in top-flight piano-playing:
don’t hesitate! The only possible problem
is that once you’ve bought the disc
you will want the complete works too.
In this case there are no problems,
because they are available, most of
them on the cheap Warner Elatus label.