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Schiff's Magisterial Bach,
Rezension bezieht sich auf: András Schiff Plays Bach [2 DVDs] (DVD)
András Schiff has been lauded for decades for his playing of Bach. His performances tend to draw lavish praise (and occasional disapproval: I remember not liking his 'Goldberg Variations' set the first time I heard it and then grew to love it immoderately over time). This DVD of his performance of the six French Suites is a logical follow-up to his earlier DVD of the English Suites Bach: English Suites. He plays the suites in numerical order in what looks to be a smallish space in a Protestant church in Leipzig during the Bachfest in the summer of 2010. He had, of course, earlier recorded (audio only) the French Suites to general acclaim Bach: The Six French Suites and these present performances do not vary markedly from those. As you likely know, his playing of Bach is marked by smoothness (no Gouldian staccato here) and utter clarity of the polyphonic strands. There is no Romantic stretching or dramatic shaping of phrases, no major variation of dynamic, but tone is varied beautifully and completely at the service of the music. Audio for this DVD is nigh perfect. He is playing a Hamburg Steinway that was customized by Angelo Fabbrini. Schiff and Maurizio Pollini have recenetly been dedicated to Fabbrini's pianos and one can hear why; the sound of this piano is simply gorgeous and clearly it responds sensitively to Schiff's touch. The concert ends with Schiff playing Bach's Overture in the French Style in B Minor, BWV 831 and finally the Italian Concerto in F Major, BWV 971.
There is a second DVD lasting just over 30 minutes. It is entitled, rather inaccurately 'András Schiff Explains Bach'. Better is should be called 'András Schiff Talks About Bach.' It is filmed in the same church and features for most of its length a head-and-shoulders shot of Schiff sitting, relaxed on a bench, and speaking in monolog. He speaks in German; there are subtitles available in English and French. He appears to be a gentle, soft-spoken man whose reverence for Bach is evident. He mentions starting every day, when there is a piano available, by playing Bach for about an hour. (I seem to remember that Rostropovich did the same thing -- at the piano, not the cello.) Schiff calls Bach the 'greatest composer of all time' -- just as Anthony Tommasini has just done in today's New York Times -- and expresses awe at the amount of music Bach wrote. 'It has been calculated that if one simply copied out his all his music by hand it would take several decades.' He also comments that no one in today's hurlyburly could find the silence that Bach required to do his work. (He points out that Bach always worked in a room away from his home with all its noisy children.) He speaks at length about the music in the French Suites, pointing out something I'd never quite realized -- that the first three are in minor keys, the last three in major keys. And he points out that Bach would never have expected anyone to play all of them in order in a concert. 'It takes a madman like me to do that.' The last five minutes or so show Schiff sitting at the piano, talking about the structure of the French Overture in B Minor, demonstrating at the keyboard. Fascinating and illuminating.
One could wonder, I suppose, why one would want to watch a DVD of someone playing the piano, but the videography is such that certainly for students of the piano Schiff's playing could be instructive. He is one of those pianists whose entire energy flows through his arms and hands, while he sits quietly with none of the bodily dramatics that some pianists indulge in. Seeing the undemonstrative majesty in his playing adds to the aural experience.