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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
András Schiff plays Schubert - II
Four Impromptus op.90 D.899
Four Impromptus op.142 D.935
Six Moments Musicaux op.94 D.780
András Schiff (piano)
rec. 1989?, no location given.
Picture format: 4:3, NTSC; Sound format: PCM stereo; Region Code: 0 (Worldwide).
EUROARTS 2066808 [97:00]

As videos of live recitals and concerts become the norm, I find it increasingly difficult to watch those films that were recorded in the past with a performer or ensemble playing alone in a large, drafty room of a German or Austrian schloss. It's no more artificial than, say, a studio recording made for a CD, but something about seeing performers in this situation seems dry and anachronistic.
 
This DVD of András Schiff performing Schubert is one of those films. Schiff looks uncomfortable at first, sitting rigidly by his piano, but when he starts playing, he gets fully into the music. The limited camerawork shows little of the large hall he is in, and occasional close-ups show the sweat on his brow. Schiff goes deeply into these short piano works, which are some of Schubert's finest. The two sets of four impromptus and the six Moments Musicaux are, in some ways, the pianistic equivalent of Schubert's lieder. At times lyrical, and at times tempestuous, these ten works show Schubert at his finest.
 
András Schiff is a great interpreter of Schubert. His Schubert recordings date back to the early 1990s and are available in a 9-CD bargain-priced box set on Decca. This DVD has a copyright date of 1989, but there is no recording information, so it represents Schiff's Schubert just before he recorded these works for Decca. Playing a Bösendorfer piano with a full, rich sound, Schiff sounds simply wonderful here, and shows his intimate understanding of these works, and his ability to change his approach as Schubert’s music changes.
 
While the music is wonderful, and the sound quite good, the video adds very little. The video quality is mediocre, with a great deal of interlacing issues at certain angles. When the camera is at the right of the piano, the keys seem to scintillate, and I watched this on a very high-end DVD player. The camera work is uninspired, and the set is boring, just columns and long drapes behind the performer.
 
All that said, this is worth having for the music. One could simply turn off the TV and listen to the performances, appreciating the subtlety and finesse of Schiff's Schubert. This disc contains 97 minutes of excellent music, and if you're unfamiliar with Schiff's recordings of Schubert's piano works, this is a great place to begin.
 
Kirk McElhearn