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Beethoven: The Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
Ludwig van Beethoven, András Schiff
Beethoven: The Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
Genre: Classical
This is the second volume of András Schiff's projected recording, in chronological order, of the complete Beethoven sonatas. It comprises the three sonatas Op. 10 and the "Pathétique" Sonata Op. 13, all written between 179...  more »


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All Artists: Ludwig van Beethoven, András Schiff
Title: Beethoven: The Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
Members Wishing: 1
Total Copies: 0
Label: ECM Records
Original Release Date: 1/1/2006
Re-Release Date: 3/28/2006
Genre: Classical
Styles: Chamber Music, Historical Periods, Classical (c.1770-1830), Romantic (c.1820-1910)
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 028947631002

This is the second volume of András Schiff's projected recording, in chronological order, of the complete Beethoven sonatas. It comprises the three sonatas Op. 10 and the "Pathétique" Sonata Op. 13, all written between 1795 and 1798, but quite different in character and feeling. The first, in Beethoven's dramatic tonality of C minor, is turbulent; the second is light-hearted and humorous. The third is most expansive; in four rather than three movements, it includes a lyrical Menuetto with an all too short, delightful Trio, and a profound, grief-stricken slow movement. The "Pathétique," again in C minor, has become a popular favorite for its high drama and its beautiful, song-like middle movement. Its slow introduction recurs several times; Schiff regards it as a thematic and structural part of the movement and includes it in the repeat of the exposition. (He takes all repeats throughout, at times adding discreet ornamentation.) Schiff's playing, as always, is the essence of refinement and elegance. His virtuosity is invariably at the service of the music, even at headlong speeds; his tone sings with beguiling beauty. He commands variety of touch, articulation, dynamics, and inflection; melody and harmonic background are balanced perfectly. (The Angelo Fabbrini piano sounds clear, but less rich and mellow than the Bösendorfer he often uses.) He combines scholarly integrity with inward expressiveness, steadiness with poised liberties; his identification with Beethoven's changing moods is complete. Strangely enough, he subscribes to the old-fashioned habit of letting the left hand anticipate the right and tends to rush certain rhythms, especially before and after crossing hands. But these are minor flaws in masterfully controlled, deeply affecting performances. -- Edith Eisler

CD Reviews

Fascinatingly fresh readings
Prescott Cunningham Moore | 06/05/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Andras Schiff's Beethoven cycle seems to defy classification. Considering this artists unanimous success as a sensitive and intelligent accompanist, a leading interpreter of Schubert and Mozart, and in light of his graceful, lyric readings of the keyboard works of J.S. Bach, it seems as if it would be safe to assume Beethoven's lyric earlier works would respond resplendently to Schiff's delicate touch. But to the contrary, in the first installment of the cycle, Schiff delivered full-bodied approaches that did not always suite the sonatas particularly well. Although the 1st and 2nd sonatas were delightful, a tighter perspective would have yielded a more coherent opus 2, No. 3 and more energy a stronger opus 7. The inconsistencies are still present in this release, but, again, where you would least expect it. Schiff delivers a shockingly convincing Pathetique, one strong on classical musical argument and filled with fresh spontaneity. As for the opus 10 sonatas, they are more of a mixed bag.

Although Schiff claims in the liner notes that he reads the F major sonata as a comic work, little of that humor actually translates into his reading. Schiff draws little humor from the coquettish flourishes that open the piece, nor do the petulant minor outbursts create any real sense of tension and release. The development zips by far too quickly and he creates nothing comic of the false recapitulation. Worse still, the finale lacks any sense of warmth or charm in Schiff's hands. He certainly makes the most of the counterpuntal nature of the work, but the proceeding has a wooden, almost perfunctory ennui that completely misses the mark. Conversely, the allegretto is delightful. Schiff magically coaxes a dark, murky tone from his instrument that is rapt with tension. Best of all, that very tension transitions into the trio magnificently, which incidentally features some of the best playing on the disc. He makes the most of music's somber poignancy, making the return of the minuet theme all the more haunting.

Opus 10, No. 3 features some wonderfully introspective playing from Schiff in the largo, taken at a flowing tempo which allows Schiff to articulate the various moods effectively. The menuetto, just shy of three minutes, is pure charm and the rondo appropriately punchy. The first movement is a bit more problematic, featuring wonderful technical precision married to lively tempos, but marred by a slightly mannered development. Schiff slight hesitations are just that, slight, but they are apparent enough to become tiresome after repeated listenings.

Surprisingly, the two c-minor sonatas are the best on the disc. Schiff (thankfully) trades in his delicate touch and somewhat mannered phrasing for strong rhythms and a sturdy tone.

The first of the opus 10 sonatas responds quite well to the instrument's brighter timbre. He creates some wonderfully dark sonorities in the opening allegro, although Schiff's clipping of the arpeggio theme is slightly aggravating. The second movement goes well enough, although suffering slightly due to the brittle tone in the upper register. The finale, however, is quite delightful. Schiff's nimble technique is dazzling as he navigates between the various moods, especially in the particularly punchy major episodes. By underplaying the coda, Schiff adds a tremendous amount of tension to the closing passages, unusually uneasy behind the mask of a major key.

The "Pathetique" is uniformly spectacular, his best conception within the cycle so far. The sonata opens with an appropriate gravitas that functions within the classical structural parameters of the work. The allegro has great vitality, energy, and a fresh spontaneity that is all together refreshing. And although I personally feel repeating the introduction with the exposition robs the development of some of its shocking novelty, so convincing is Schiff's commitment to his case that it does not bother me one bit. The freshness of the first movement ebbs over into the wonderfully flowing second movement. Schiff shakes off the romantic patina that this movement has amassed over the years, which makes the listening experience akin to seeing a newly cleaned and restored painting. Schiff's usual sensitivity of tone and tasteful accoutrements only add to this gem. Best of all, Schiff reads the finale as a classical rondo in the truest sense, making no attempt to instill grand drama where Beethoven intended none. The episodes fly by with delightful buoyancy, Schiff adding refined embellishments with each return of the rondo theme. The churlish clipping of the final chords is slightly gauche, but on the whole, Schiff succeeds in the seemingly impossible task of delivering a fresh "Pathetique" read (correctly) not as a romantic milestone but rather as a classical sonata struggling to find a voice for Beethoven's developing style.

All in all, the good out weigh the bad in this second release from Andras Schiff, whose cycle, if anything, will be musically fascinating. Although I will never warm to the harsh, overly-bright tone of his instrument, only exacerbated by the microphone placement, Schiff has more than enough to say to warrant adding this release to your collection. And while at times he can sound distant, calculated, or just plain bizarre, he is always saying something interesting, defending his choices with utmost conviction. Fascinating."
András Schiff defines Beethoven's piano sonatas
Scaffa | Sweden | 01/05/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)


This review refers to the eight volumes of András Schiff's cycle of Beethoven's piano sonatas released by ECM Records. The lay out of the volumes is as follows:

Vol 1: opp. 2 and 7
Vol 2: opp. 10 and 13
Vol 3: opp. 49, 14 and 22
Vol 4: opp. 26, 27 and 28
Vol 5: opp. 31 and 53
Vol 6: opp. 54, 57, 78, 79 and 81a
Vol 7: opp. 90, 101 and 106
Vol 8: opp. 109, 110 and 111

All recordings except those on the last volume are of live performances (from 2004 to 2006) in the Tonhalle Zurich in front of a very quiet audience. No coughing between movements, no applause at the end, and hardly any noise at all during performances. The last volume was recorded in the empty hall of the Reitstadel in Neumarkt, Germany. The sound quality is superb throughout. The separation of the channels is done so that you have the higher notes, located on the right hand side of the keyboard, in the right channel, and the lower notes in the left channel. Personally I find this the only acceptable way of organising piano music into a stereo recording. It gives you the impression of sitting in with the pianist.

Schiff's performances are of the highest order. He even manages to breathe new life into often-heard sonatas such as the Op 27-2, Moonlight. Pianists have not been able to agree on how to interpret Beethoven's instructions for the first movement of the Moonlight. Some, including Schiff, take Beethoven literally and push down the pedal for the entire movement (this and many other things is explained by Schiff in his Wigmore Hall lectures which are available for free download from the Guardian website). Gulda did the same in his 1950s cycle but not in his 1960s cycle. The result is mesmerising and beautiful. In addition, Schiff plays the Moonlight sonata at a slightly faster speed than what is commonly done, which makes for a fresh and contemporary take on this well-known piece.

No single cycle will probably satisfy you completely. I find much of Barenboim's playing on his 1960s cycle very odd but his performance of the Hammerklavier would follow me to a desert island. Gulda's 1960s cycle is mostly excellent (as is the sound, but one has to accentuate 'mostly' here because there are some awkward splices) but I can't think of any better way of starting your exploration of these magnificent works than by listening to Schiff's cycle. He has a sublime touch, a masterly control over his means and an artistic sensibility that will convince you that this is how Beethoven should be played. And it's all rendered in glorious sound. Highly recommendable.