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András Schiff’s Beethoven cycle, recorded live in chronological order at Tonhalle Zurich, continues to collect critical praise as it moves forward to the later “middle” period. Lorenzo Arruga, writing in Italy’s Il Giornale on Volume V (including the three sonatas Op. 31 and the “Waldstein”) billed it as “sublime and revelatory”, while Philip Clark (Classic FM Magazine) spoke of a rendering that “isn’t for the faint-hearted who like their Beethoven all cosy and neat”, particularly admiring “bold brushstrokes” and “vivid inner details”.

Egon Bezold in Klassik.com pointed at the “extraordinary representation of the overall architecture and expressive variety”, and Gramophone’s Jed Distler highlighted the “remarkable timbral distinctions, fastidious execution of turns and other ornaments, plus painstakingly differentiated accents, articulation marks and dynamics.” Michael Stenger commented in FonoForum: “Schiff achieves clarity and yet a magic of atmospheres which is far away from the tedious pseudo-objectivity many performers offer here. There is great explosiveness but still warm contemplation in the slow movements…Exemplary!” A much more general point was made by Carl Rosman in the International Record Revue: “There is in any case no other pianist on the major recording scene currently bringing such a new and refreshing perspective to these pillars of the repertoire.”

Volume VI, including sonatas from the period between 1804 and 1810, offers some of the most famous and widely-known works together with an astonishing variety of forms and concepts, a constellation which, once again, highlights the attractiveness of Schiff’s chronological approach: “It provides evidence of a progressive journey which comes to a temporary halt with the completion of the ‘Appassionata’ in 1805, before continuing again some four years later with the F-sharp major Sonata Op. 78. But Beethoven varies the design of these five sonatas in a wholly adventurous way. The ‘Appassionata’ is preceded by the two-movement F-major Sonata Op. 54, whose mood is partly song-like, and partly heavily accented. The Op. 78 Sonata takes us into a very lyrical as well as capriciously playful world. On the other hand, the next sonata, Op. 79, whose first movement is headed ‘alla tedesca’, is generally incisive and extrovert; and finally the ‘Les Adieux’-Sonata presents us with a wonderful portrayal of a spiritual state between farewell, absence and joyful reunion.”

Increased media attention is to be expected when Schiff’s Beethoven cycle on ECM New Series reaches the composer’s venerable late works this autumn. It will be completed with two separate volumes on single-CDs containing the sonatas opp. 90, 101 and 106 and opp. 109 to 111 respectively. Future Schiff-releases on ECM will include a new live recording of Bach’s complete Partitas. In 2008, Schiff will perform selected Beethoven-programmes in the US (in April and October), in England, Switzerland and Germany.

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