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Scott Noriega
Fanfare, July 2011

András Schiff has, for the entirety of his career, performed Bach’s music. In the current recital, filmed as part of the Bachfest 2010, Schiff performs all of Bach’s “French” music, that is, the so-called French Suites and the French Overture; for his generous encore, he completes the Clavierübung II with the entirety of the Italian Concerto. Surprisingly, he presents the suites in numerical order, admitting on the second DVD that this is a bit awkward in recital as the first three suites are all in minor keys, the last three all in major. He also points out the fact that Bach certainly did not intend for these suites to be performed one after another in concert. For the home viewer, this is obviously not an issue as it is easy enough to jump from one spot on the DVD to another; nonetheless it is surprising that Schiff programmed the pieces in this order, when just a couple of years ago he arranged the six Partitas by ascending tonics, staggering major and minor tonalities (G Major, A Minor, B♭-Major, C Minor, D Major, E Minor) because he felt this worked far better as a modern concert program than Bach’s original numerical ordering. Were Schiff less persuasive of an artist than he is, this would be detrimental to the enjoyment of the recital.

Thankfully, I find his Bach even more enjoyable now than when he recorded the complete (or almost complete) works for Decca around two decades ago. The DVD is especially enjoyable to watch, as Schiff is a very non-eccentric player. His tempi are usually spot-on—never too fast in the courantes, nor, more importantly, too slow in the sarabandes. He maintains a sense of momentum through his subtle dynamic shading and his carefully placed accents. All of the repeats are taken, with each of them ornamented, though never so much as to get in the way of Schiff’s wonderful ability to clarify textures. The French Overture is especially enjoyable to watch, as the piece is a bit weightier than any of the French Suites; in a sense, the entire recital leads up to this point. Though there are moments in the recital about which one can nitpick—for me the tempi of the fugal section of the opening movement of the French Overture and the concluding Presto of the Italian Concerto are just a tad too slow for my taste—overall, this is music-making that is not just enjoyable but exalted in its best moments.

The second DVD, titled András Schiff Explains Bach, more closely resembles “András Schiff casually talks about his experiences with Bach.” This “explanatory” DVD, while interesting to those who are already fans of Schiff, or who would like to know what his voice sounds like—though be forewarned that he speaks in German for the entire half hour—is less interesting than an interview might have been. As a bonus, it is inessential, and I find that two run-throughs are more than enough, possibly for the rest of my encounters with this set. From a visual perspective, these performances make an especially enjoyable experience. The non-fussy attitude taken by the cameramen make it seem that for most of this recital one had the best seat in the house; for those of us who were not able to fly to Germany for this recital, this makes one feel especially fortunate. All in all, a most welcome release from one of the more interesting Bach interpreters of our time. As Schiff has been around for many years, he has his fans and he has his detractors. If one likes Schiff’s playing, this is essential. If one does not, I can only say, judge each performance individually: Schiff’s playing has only gotten better with the years.

Jed Distler
Gramophone, May 2011

It’s all about the bottom line—which on this taping is nicely nuanced by Schiff

In a bonus DVD accompanying András Schiff’s Bach recital at Leipzig’s Protestant Reformed Church, the pianist explains how the French Suites were likely conceived to be played at home, on the clavichord, for perhaps four people in the room, whereas the Overture in the French Style is essentially orchestral music recast for keyboard. A church and a small audience may not exactly constitute house music, yet the intimate scale of Schiff’s performances certainly reflect his words. Although Schiff’s tempi generally differ little when compared alongside his 1991 Decca versions, the phrasing boasts more finely tuned legato/detached differentiation, with leaner textures and more specificity in regard to following contrapuntal lines through to their final destination.

You particularly notice that in the Sarabandes, which are less rounded and tapered now, and more line-oriented, without sacrificing one iota of expressivity (the C minor is a good example). The Gigues remain just as buoyant, yet with an added sense of “air” around the notes, as if Schiff were not interpreting Bach on the piano so much as through the piano. Perhaps this has to do with Schiff’s conception of certain lines as played by other instruments. True, we can split hairs over this movement or that movement, such as in my preference for the 1991 E flat Courante’s more propulsive basslines over 2010’s lighter manifestation, where, by contrast, the French Overture’s Courante’s bassoon-like bass-lines are more in the forefront this time around.

The bottom line (I swear, I only saw the bad pun right after I typed it!) is that Schiff can play all six suites and the more demanding.

French Overture in one concert and sustain a level of artistry, concentration, stamina and attention to detail as few pianists of his or any generation have accomplished. And if that weren’t enough, Schiff plays the entire Italian Concerto as an encore. The varied and unobtrusive camerawork serves the music, the artist and the occasion well, as does the clear and resplendent surround-sound audio.

David Patrick Stearns
Sacramento Bee, February 2011

J.S. Bach has been winning popularity contests anew—partly because some of the best pianists, young and not-so-young, have ongoing devotion to the music. András Schiff is now a Bach elder statesman, and the newfound Beethovenian edge in his performances is indeed present here—even if, amid all his artistry, you could wish for a greater sense of discovery in his performances.

Hank Zauderer
My Classical Notes, February 2011

During the past week, I have decided to end my day by listening to Johann Sebastian Bach. I am hoping that this move will improve my troubled sleep quality these days…

As such, I came to enjoy and study this DVD of András Schiff playing the Bach French Suites numbers 1–6. The setting is a tiny church in Germany. It is an intimate way to perform Bach’s music in a venue that is quite different than, say, Carnegie Hall.

I am a “Bach Freak” anyway. I love so many of this man’s creations that have been enjoyed by folks for the past 315 years or so…

András Schiff has received much praise for his playing of Bach. He plays the suites in numerical order, and his playing is marked by smoothness and total clarity of the polyphonic musical line. There is no romantic stretching or dramatic altering of phrases, no major variation of dynamics, but the tone is varied beautifully and sensitively in support of the music.

The concert ends with Schiff playing Bach’s Overture in the French Style in B Minor, BWV 831, and finally also the Italian Concerto in F Major, BWV 971.

Nicholas Sheffo
Fulvue Drive-in, February 2011

another solid release from EuroArts, András Schiff Plays Bach, delivering French Suites Nos. 1–6, Overture in the French Style in B minor on piano. These concerts that isolate the player usually work out well enough, though with the burden on one artist, things could go wrong but Schiff has a fine command of Bach and this is one of the best Bach titles we have covered to date.

The program was taped 6/11/10 and lasts 132 minutes, which could have worn out its welcome, but instead, Schiff plays the music with a grasp and familiarity that gives it the kind of life you would get form the best performances of the master’s works. He is in his own zone very quickly as he starts playing and it stays that way the whole time, which is the sign of a truly gifted pianist. I was impressed and this will stick with me for a very long time., January 2011

Schiff does an equally fine job in the French Suites, delving perhaps a little more deeply into the emotional side of the music than does Denk, while playing with equal flair and a good understanding of most period practices. The dual-DVD Schiff set raises the usual question about the attractiveness of visual performances of classical works to an unusual degree, since here we have a single player at a keyboard for more than two hours, with a director choosing a variety of shots to try to keep the visuals interesting—thus distracting from a listener’s focus on the music itself and providing an experience very different from what one would have in attending a solo recital. This type of recording is very much a matter of taste: it is certainly not badly done, but whether the visuals add anything significant to the performance is entirely an individual matter. One thing that does add value here, though, is a half-hour “explanation” of Bach that Schiff offers in addition to the performances themselves. This provides some genuine insight into how Schiff sees the Baroque master and his music, and helps explain a number of Schiff’s performance choices. Although not integral to the musical material, this discussion actually adds more to the performances than do the visuals of Schiff’s playing. Certainly fans of Schiff’s carefully considered approach to Bach will find the DVDs interesting and valuable; and even those who are not familiar with Schiff’s considerable knowledge and ability will be impressed with his understanding of the music he plays and the composer who created it.

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9:41:08 PM, 31 July 2015
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