András Schiff plays JS Bach

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: EuroArts
WORKS: French Suites Nos 1-6; Overture in the French Style in B minor; Italian Concerto in F Bonus: András Schiff explains Bach
PERFORMER: András Schiff (piano) (Leipzig, 2010)
CATALOGUE NO: 2058138 (NTSC system; dts 5.0; 16:9 picture format)

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It is a heavenly prospect – András Schiff live performing of all six of Bach’s French Suites. Throw in the less well-known Overture in the French Style, and the Italian Concerto as a generous encore, and the result is over two hours of unalloyed joy, tempered only by envy at not being at the Protestant Reformed Church in Leipzig for the concert itself. The bonus feature cannot match its title’s promise, Schiff explains Bach, but his playing says it all.
Schiff combines the secure touch of a performer thoroughly immersed in Bach’s style with an effervescent freshness of spirit.

Whether it is the most complex contrapuntal passages, or a long-breathed sustaining line, there is a natural flow to every phrase. He cradles the opening ‘Allemande’ of the Third Suite, bounces Puckishly through the ‘Gigue’ of the Fifth Suite and understatedly tugs the heartstrings in the ‘Sarabande’ of the Second. Especially striking are the transformations of timbre, such as the delicate repeat of the second half of the Overture’s ‘Sarabande’. Though an occasional mild splash creeps into this live Italian Concerto, the slow movement is utterly sublime.

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The many close-ups of Schiff’s hands are far more comfortable to watch with the exceptional clarity of Blu-ray. However, the sound throws up an unexpected caveat. Being less compressed in feel than the DVD, the Blu-ray has a much more realistic acoustic. The trouble is that, in surround, reproduction of a resonant church, placing the listener some distance from the piano, creates a mismatch with the close filming. However ears and eyes soon adapt to such dislocation. Christopher Dingle