Notes and Editorial Reviews
Schiff's first uneasy recorded encounter with Bach was in 1985, after which their entente became increasingly cordiale; his last to be released was five years ago. Have the passing years brought any improvement? Well yes—in some respects. Some time ago I was on the jury of a competition in which one contestant chose a work of mine as his freechoice piece; he played every note—at incredible speed. Afterwards he came to me and asked naively, "How did you like my interpretation of your piece?"; I said "I don't know—I didn't have time to hear it." I have the same feeling about Schiff's gallops through many movements of the French Suites (and Overture). In some movements he is a whisker ahead of all competition, in others
it's more: the most acute sufferers are the Allemandes of Suites Nos. 4-6, most of the Courantes, a handful of various galanteries and the Gigues of Suites Nos. 1-4 (the ornaments in that of the Second Suite buzz like hostile hornets).
Other traits for which Schiff has been rightly castigated in the past have been romantic dwellings and rubatos, and over-the-top embellishment that has not always sat comfortably, in particular his use of inegalites. The first has virtually vanished, the second is much improved. Some original ornaments are omitted, some are reserved for the repeats and (except perhaps for the Passepieds of the French Overture) embellishment by diminution and gap-filling is moderated and more tasteful. Inegalites still appear, occasionally lombardic' (as in bar 2—at 028" of the Sarabande of Suite No. 3), but many, such as in the Gavotte of No. 4 and Louré of No. 5 sound distinctly uneasy. In the Sarabande of No. 4 the rhythm is changed in the bass line of bars 13-14 (057") and the treble of 21-22(120'), for no apparent logical reason.
Alongside this there is much excellence: the galanteries are light of step even when their tempos are immoderate, staccato is rarely overdone (the Gigue of the French Overture is an exception), and the Gigue of Suite No. 3 is the only instance of aggressive pianism. The Italian Concerto is admirably treated; the Andante is arguably the most beautifully played movement on the entire record, and the opening of the French Overture is majestic and spacious. Schiff, no less than Gould, makes one aware of every strand in the textures, but resorts to no eccentricity in doing so. His respect for Bach's music is evident (his choice of texts is explained in the booklet) and his love for its true face is beginning to show. The piano has a hard, bright sound and the recording is vivid. For those who lean piano- rather than harpsichord-wards in these works, this is the clear choice.
-- Gramophone [10/1993]
Works on This Recording
Italian Concerto, BWV 971 by Johann Sebastian Bach
András Schiff (Piano)
Written: 1735; Leipzig, Germany
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