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Briefly Noted: Schiff's HIP Schubert

available at Amazon
Schubert, Sonatas / Impromptus, A. Schiff (fortepiano)

(released on April 26, 2019)
ECM New Series 2535/36 | 124'10"
A few years ago, András Schiff performed three concerts in Washington over the space of a couple years. The programs brought together the three final sonatas of four composers: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. Although he was performing here on a Steinway concert grand, he was capitalizing on his exploration of a rather different instrument, a fortepiano built by the Viennese maker Franz Brodmann in around 1820. It belonged to the Austrian imperial family and was taken by Karl I, the last ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with him into exile in the early 20th century. In Basel it was magnificently restored by Martin Scholz, and in 2010 Schiff acquired it and donated it to the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn.

It is there that Schiff has made a few recordings on the instrument, starting with Beethoven's Diabelli Variations and continuing with two Schubert sets. The latest one, released this past spring, is a 2-CD set, rounding out the trilogy of final sonatas he played live on a modern instrument. The Brodmann instrument, in Schiff's words, is "ideally suited to Schubert's keyboard works. There is something quintessentially Viennese in its timbre, its tender mellowness, its melancholic cantabilità." Schiff plays it most expressively, using its four pedals to create varied sounds: the due corde pedal and moderator fill out the ghostly piano side of the music, and the buzzing bassoon pedal increases the loudness of some bass sections. One by one, the titans of the old classical school are seeing the value of the historical instruments movement, and it is informative indeed to find out what a master like Schiff has discovered about music he has played almost all his life when he gets to know the sort of instrument that Schubert likely knew.

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