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Christoph Eschenbach’s mother died giving birth to him, and his father, who had been a musicologist at the University of Breslau, was victimised for his opposition to the Nazis. Eschenbach was raised by his grandmother, as his father was prevented from seeing him; the father was put into a camp, and then shot. His grandmother then died and his godmother became Christoph’s foster-mother after rescuing him from a Maklinburg camp. Growing up in his godmother’s house Eschenbach heard a lot of music as she was a singer and pianist who gave lessons at home, and her husband was an amateur violinist. Early musical influences upon the boy were Edwin Fischer and Wilhelm Furtwängler.

At the ages of eleven and twelve Eschenbach twice won first prize in the Hamburg Steinway Piano Competition. When he was seventeen he won a special prize in the International Music Competition in Munich, followed by first prize of the German Schools of Music Competition. He studied at the Cologne Musikhochschule with Hans-Otto Schmidt-Neuhaus and then went to Hamburg where he studied piano with Eliza Hansen and conducting with Wilhelm Brückner-Rüggeberg.

Eschenbach again won the Munich prize in 1962, but it was his winning of the first prize in the first Clara Haskil Competition held in Lucerne in1965 that really launched his career. It led to concerts and recitals throughout the world and collaborations with conductors such as George Szell (with whom he studied from 1967 to 1969) and Herbert von Karajan. Although Eschenbach’s official London debut was in 1966, he appeared at the Wigmore Hall in 1961 as accompanist to violinist Charles Joseph. His official debut in 1966 was with the London Symphony Orchestra when he played Mozart’s Piano Concerto in F major K. 459, and his recital debut in London was given a few weeks later when the Zagreb Soloists left the Royal Festival Hall vacant at short notice. ‘A pianist of twenty-six who chooses to give his London debut recital on the august platform of the Festival Hall is either a very talented or else a very misguided young person. The German pianist, Mr Christoph Eschenbach, belongs to the former category.’

Hans Werner Henze dedicated his Piano Concerto No. 2 to Eschenbach who gave the première in 1968 in Bielefeld, Germany and recorded the work for Deutsche Grammophon with the composer conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra. During the 1960s and 1970s Eschenbach also played piano duets with Justus Franz and was a lieder accompanist working with such singers as Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Eschenbach made his conducting debut in 1972 with Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3. Following this he held a series of conducting posts with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the North German Radio Orchestra and the Orchestre de Paris. In 2003, Eschenbach was appointed music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Eschenbach’s repertoire extends from the Baroque period through to the twentieth century, but he is particularly known for his performances and recordings of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert. One of his early recordings for Deutsche Grammophon in 1966 was a Schumann recital. Joan Chissell described ‘…performances of aristocratic ease, refinement and purity. The early Abegg Variations need nothing more…’ although she did find Kinderszenen ‘occasionally too impersonal’. For Deutsche Grammophon Eschenbach has also recorded the complete piano sonatas of Mozart and some of the later piano concertos for EMI in which he directs the London Philharmonic Orchestra from the keyboard. The sonatas were issued in 1971 with a few of the short solo works. The original issue received five columns of review in The Gramophone magazine, with the reviewer preferring recordings by Ingrid Haebler and Walter Klien; conversely the reissue on compact disc in 1994 received less than one column, yet here the performances are highly thought of and are compared favourably to those by Mitsuko Uchida. The only criticism was ‘…his phrasing is a little clipped and Prussian sounding, but not so often as to be a problem.’ It is a fair comment and can also be applied to Eschenbach’s recordings of some of Haydn’s piano sonatas.

With his piano duo partner Justus Franz, Eschenbach has recorded Mozart’s music for piano duet and some of Schubert’s works for piano duet. One of his finest recordings is of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto Op. 73 made in 1974 with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. As The Gramophone magazine said of it, ‘This is a very intelligent and beautifully played performance by Eschenbach.’

As accompanist, in 1985 Eschenbach partnered Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in a great deal of Schumann’s lieder, including Dichterliebe which he recorded again in 1996 with Peter Schreier for Teldec. Because Eschenbach works as pianist, accompanist and conductor with a number of orchestras, he has recorded for many different labels. For Decca as pianist he recorded a Schubert lieder recital with soprano Renée Fleming in 1997, and a year earlier accompanied her as conductor in a recording of Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder for RCA.

There are now more discs available of Eschenbach as conductor than as pianist. With his Rheinland-Pflaz State Philharmonic Orchestra he recorded for the Signum label and during his tenure with the Houston Symphony Orchestra he recorded for Koch, RCA and Telarc. The repertoire covered Schoenberg and Webern, John Adams, Philip Glass and Christopher Rouse as well as Brahms and Bruckner. With the North German Radio Orchestra Eschenbach recorded Schumann’s four symphonies in 1999 for RCA.

As a chamber musician Eschenbach recorded a rather cool Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor Op. 34 with the Amadeus Quartet, whilst one of his most recent discs is of Brahms’s cello sonatas with Natalia Gutman on the Live Classics label.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).

View by Role: Classical Artist | Conductor
Role: Classical Artist 
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Role: Conductor 
Album Title
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BARTOK, B.: Concerto for Orchestra / MARTINU, B.: Memorial to Lidice / KLEIN, G.: Partita for Strings (Philadelphia Orchestra, Eschenbach) Ondine
Concerto, Orchestral
BERNSTEIN AT 100 - The Centennial Celebration at Tanglewood (Sierra, Yazbeck, Boston Symphony, A. Nelsons, J. Williams) (Blu-ray, HD) C Major
Classical Concert
BERNSTEIN AT 100 - The Centennial Celebration at Tanglewood (Sierra, Yazbeck, Boston Symphony, A. Nelsons, J. Williams) (NTSC) C Major
Classical Concert
BRAHMS, J.: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / 4 Ballades, Op. 10 (Barto, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Eschenbach) Capriccio
Cello Concertos - SCHUMANN, R. / STRAUSS, R. / VOLKMANN, F.R. / BRUCH, M. (Müller-Schott) Orfeo
Orchestral, Concerto, Orchestral, Concerto
ELGAR, E.: Cello Concerto (arr. for viola) / SCHNITTKE, A.: Viola Concerto (D.A. Carpenter, Philharmonia Orchestra, Eschenbach) Ondine
HINDEMITH, P.: Kammermusik, Nos. 1-3 (Philippe, Park, Xi Zhai, Kronberg Academy Soloists, Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival Orchestra, Eschenbach) Ondine
Chamber Music, Orchestral
HINDEMITH, P.: Klaviermusik mit Orchester / DVORAK, A.: Symphony No. 9, "From the New World" (Eschenbach) Ondine
HINDEMITH, P.: Symphony, "Mathis der Maler" / Symphony in E-Flat Major (North German Radio Symphony, Eschenbach) Ondine
HINDEMITH, P.: Violin Concerto / Symphonic Metamorphosis / Konzertmusik (Midori, North German Radio Symphony, Eschenbach) Ondine
Concerto, Orchestral, Concerto
LISZT, F. / BRAHMS, J. / LUTOSŁAWSKI, W.: Paganini Variations / RACHMANINOV, S.: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Barto, Eschenbach) Ondine
MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 1 / Ruckert Songs (Schafer, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Eschenbach) Capriccio
Orchestral, Vocal
MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection" (Saturova, Naef, Philadelphia Singers Chorale, Philadelphia Orchestra, Eschenbach) Ondine
MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 6, "Tragic" / Piano Quartet in A Minor Ondine
Orchestral Concert: BERNSTEIN, L. / LIEBERSON, P. / GERSHWIN, G. (Remembering JFK - 50th Anniversary Concert) (National Symphony, Eschenbach) Ondine
Orchestral, Concerto, Wind Ensemble/Band Music, Orchestral
POULENC, F.: Organ Concerto in G Minor / SAINT-SAENS, C.: Symphony No. 3, "Organ" / BARBER, S.: Toccata festiva (Latry) Ondine
Orchestral, Concerto
ROUSSEL, A.: Bacchus et Ariane Suites Nos. 1 and 2 / Symphony No. 2 (Orchestre de Paris, Eschenbach) Ondine
ROUSSEL, A.: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4 (Orchestre de Paris, Eschenbach) Ondine
ROUSSEL, A.: Symphony No. 3 / Le festin de l'araignee (Orchestre de Paris, Eschenbach) Ondine
Orchestral, Ballet
SAARIAHO, K.: Notes on Light / Orion / Mirage (Mattila, Karttunen, Paris Orchestra, Eschenbach) Ondine
Concerto, Orchestral
SAARIAHO, K.: Orchestral Music (Eschenbach, Lintu, Salonen, Saraste) Ondine
Concerto, Orchestral
SAINT-SAËNS, C.: Piano Concerto No. 5 / GERSHWIN, G.: Piano Concerto (S.Richter, Stuttgart Radio Symphony, Eschenbach) (Schwetzinger Festspiele, 1993) SWR Classic
SCHUMANN, R.: Introduction and Allegro appassionato / Introduction and Concert Allegro (Barto, North German Radio Symphony, Eschenbach) Ondine
SCHUMANN, R.: Violin Sonata No. 2 / Phantasie, Op. 131 (Widjaja, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Eschenbach) Oehms Classics
SHOSTAKOVICH, D.: Cello Concerto Nos. 1 and 2 (D. Maslennikov, Eschenbach) Phoenix Edition
SHOSTAKOVICH, D.: Symphony No. 5 / 7 Verses (Eschenbach) Ondine
STRAUSS, R.: Capriccio (Vienna State Opera, 2013) (Blu-ray, HD) C Major
Opera DVD
STRAUSS, R.: Capriccio (Vienna State Opera, 2013) (NTSC) C Major
Opera DVD
TCHAIKOVSKY, P.: Symphony No. 5 / The Seasons (Philadelphia Orchestra, Eschenbach) Ondine
TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I.: Piano Concerto No. 1 / Variations on a Rococo Theme (Barto, Maslennikov, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Eschenbach) Capriccio
TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I.: Romeo and Juliet / Serenade / Francesca da Rimini / EWALD, V.: Brass Quintets Nos. 1 and 3 (Philadelphia Orchestra, Eschenbach) Ondine
TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I.: Symphony No. 4 / The Seasons (Philadelphia Orchestra, Eschenbach) Ondine
TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I.: Symphony No. 6, "Pathétique" / Dumka (Eschenbach) Ondine
ZEMLINSKY, A.: Lyric Symphony (Goerne, Schafer, Orchestre de Paris, Eschenbach) Capriccio

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