WORKS: Suite No. 1 in B flat; Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel; Variations and Fugue on a Theme of JS Bach
PERFORMER: András Schiff (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-99051-2 DDD
Of all the first-class pianists, András Schiff must be one of the worst served by recording producers and engineers. Here we go again. His performance of Davidsbündlertänze could hardly be better, but the forceful, lively numbers are spoilt by a recessed acoustic, like a big, empty studio, and a hard, insensitive piano. The soft, introspective numbers and lovely Blumenstück survive better – enough to be enjoyed. I’m less sure about the Études symphoniques, which are available in so many other recordings anyway. Schiff plays Schumann’s streamlined revision and adds the posthumous variations at the end. He’s inclined to be ponderous, particularly in the second variation, and it’s hard to believe he really made this kind of sound on the piano.
The other disc, recorded at a recital in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, is a bit better, but still rather distant for my taste: the Concertgebouw is marvellous for large 19th-century orchestral works, less so for a solitary piano. Still, the performances are impressive: the Handel is gloriously lively and uninhibited (insouciant of period scruples), the Brahms strongly controlled (though Emanuel Ax’s studio recording is still probably the most satisfying version) and the Reger played for all it’s worth, though you may decide for yourself how much that means.