András Schiff BEETHOVEN Sonatas opp. 31 and 53

When András Schiff performed the “Waldstein sonata” in New York’s Avery Fisher Hall in November 2005, Jeremy Eichler, writing in the New York Times, spoke of a “breathtaking reading”: “This music of great depth and surface complexity seemed to unite Mr. Schiff’s strengths as a pianist. Even the most densely layered keyboard textures became a pellucid frame for the work’s tense and swirling energy.”
In the interview with Martin Meyer which is printed in the booklet to the present recording, Schiff himself emphasizes the special character of this famous op. 53: “The ‘Waldstein’ sonata is certainly an overwhelming work that was not only of great significance to the composer, but also occupies a special place in the history of piano music. Its spatial dimensions alone are enormous, and were only exceeded later by those of the ‘Hammerklavier’ sonata. Furthermore, Beethoven takes a giant stride forwards in respect of new-found pianistic sonorities, at the same time creating a huge ‘tone-poem’”. In the recital in the Zurich Tonhalle that was recorded live for this CD Schiff added the original slow movement from the “Waldstein” sonata, the “Andante favori” (which Beethoven later dismissed out of formal considerations), as an encore. “It was like a salute from another world” wrote Peter Hagmann in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung after this concert in December 2005.
Volume V of Schiff’s much acclaimed Beethoven cycle in chronological order, recorded live in Zurich, offers four masterworks dating from the so-called “middle period” i.e. the first years of the 19th century, when, among other groundbreaking compositions, the “Eroica” symphony was written. Like all his Beethoven recitals the programme was played on a Bösendorfer (op. 31) and on a Steinway grand (op. 53).
Op. 31 is the last group of three piano sonatas under one opus number in Beethoven’s oeuvre, once again highlighting the composer’s genius in creating very differently shaped works at the same time. Schiff: “The first sonata, in G major, is an extremely witty work, and perhaps Beethoven’s wittiest sonata altogether. It is also virtuosic and extrovert, and full of surprising inspirations. The second sonata, in d minor, carries the not inappropriate nickname of ‘The Tempest’. It is altogether dark in tone and its effect is highly dramatic, with a ‘literary’ mood throughout. And the third sonata, in E-flat major, is probably the hardest to paraphrase in words: on the one hand it seems tender, entreating and pleading, with a lyrical basic mood strongly in evidence; and on the other hand, in the scherzo and finale it maintains a high-spirited and urgent sense of motion.”


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