Sonatas & Impromptus
Sir András Schiff p
ECM 4817252 (2CD)

Instrumental Recording of the Year

Sir András Schiff’s born again Schubert guarantees impromtu revelations aplenty

Schubert has always been very close to my heart. the Klavierstücke, and the Impromptus were part of my student years. Of course, the last sonatas came much later, they are not really for children. – Sir András Schiff

András Schiff’s purchase of a fortepiano in 2010 transformed a long-held fascination with the instrument into a full-blown love affair that has blossomed into admired recordings of Beethoven and Schubert, to whose late piano sonatas he returns on disc. He’s playing no ordinary fortepiano: a Franz Brodmann model dating from around 1820 – perfect for late Schubert – it once belonged to Karl I, the optimistically titled last ruler of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Schiff describes it as having “something quintessentially Viennese in its timbre, its tender mellowness, its melancholic cantabilità”, qualities that come to the fore time and again in these fascinating, quietly ravishing, insightful and often moving performances.

We’re deep in Schubert’s last months here, but Schiff steadfastly avoids retrospective comment on a life soon to be cut short. To the fore is a magisterial freedom of expression abetted by the elastic technique of Schiff’s fleet, fluid fingers and agile pedal work in performances of considered intelligence, sensitive emotional engagement and penetrating musicality. Brodmann’s fortepiano is a thing of bracing beauty, its signature sound crisply articulate.

Schiff himself seems reborn, or at least fully persuaded by the fortepiano’s antique attractions, putting them to expressive use in a traversal of familiar works that produces one fresh, revealing insight after another. Michael Quinn

Available from Classics Direct.

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