András Schiff: Encores after Beethoven (ECM New Series 1950)

Encores after Beethoven

András Schiff
Encores after Beethoven

András Schiff piano
Concert recordings at Tonhalle Zürich, March 2004-May 2006
Engineer: Stephan Schellmann
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: November 25, 2016

For this collection of encores, recorded during his cycle of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas yet never released until now, pianist András Schiff presents selections that, in his own words, “are closely related to the previously heard sonatas.” More than that, however, when taken as their own program, relationships within these pieces are as deep and meaningful as between them. Each is a satellite of the Beethovenian mothership, beaming down messages of darkness and light in kind.

The Allegro assai in e-flat minor from Schubert’s from Three Piano Pieces (D 946) introduces the disc with a synchronicity of medium and message that indeed echoes Beethoven in its grammar. With a dramaturgy perhaps only describable as oceanic, it sparkles with lunar pull. The Allegretto in c minor (D 915) that follows unfolds by means of a subtler narrative structure, spiraling in on itself, now with deliberation over desperation.

Alongside this door, Schiff opens another marked Mozart in the form of the little Gigue in G major (KV 574). This altogether exquisite piece is an Escherian staircase in sound, and serves as prelude to “Papa” Haydn’s Sonata in g minor (Hob VXI:44). That Beethoven deeply admired Haydn can be no secret after bathing in these spring waters. Schiff’s further distillation is worthy of that admiration as well, and feels as organic as the music is calculated, marrying as it does delicate restraint with robust linearity.

Were it not for the applause, Schubert’s Hungarian Melody in b minor (D 817), might be overwhelmed by the aftereffects, but as it stands inhales and exhales a full color palette in this folkish dance. Played, as written, from the heart, its charm is magnified tenfold by this performance.

Standing equally alone yet inseverable from the surrounding tissue, Beethoven’s Andante favori in F major (WoO 57), last heard on Volume V of Schiff’s magnum traversal, echoes an even more wholesome quality and shows just how completely Beethoven was able to tell a story.

How appropriate that we should end where it all began: with Bach. Between the tastefully wrought balustrade of the Menuet I and II from Partita No. 1 in B-flat major (BWV 825) and the Prelude and Fugue in b-flat minor (BWV 867) fromThe Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, one can almost taste the dust of Bach’s architectural wonder, which in this context seems like a return to fundamentals. Bones before flesh, and breath before bones.

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