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Beethoven, Mahler, Shostakovich, Mahler and Silvestrov

Andras Schiff and Valentin Silvestrov (piano); Kamerata Baltica/Gidon Kremer

ECM New Series 476 6186, 6177 & 6178 [UK distributor New Note]


An interesting batch from Manfred Eicher's always stimulating and very personal label.

Do not expect any enlightenment from the quirky cover images. And information in the texts is liable sometimes to be limited, or indigestible.

For example, Andras Schiff is shown with two pianos at Zurich on an inside page of his latest live Beethoven recital disc's booklet. What is the one he plays? And does he play them both on this latest of his fine series (Sonatas Op 31 & 53)?

Although Schiff has in the past to my regret derided early keyboard instrument specialists*, on the other hand he takes a great interest in pianos and is wealthy enough to tour with particular instruments (usually prepared by Angelo Fabbrini). He has spoken against the Steinway monopoly - "we have been brainwashed into taking for granted that pianos should always be black and made by Steinway - - The Wigmore Hall used to be called the Bechstein Hall - when did we last hear a Bechstein, Bosendorfer or Ibach here?"

These performances, and their recording, are recommmendable as being as good as anyone elses. The booklet is enhanced by Beethoven's autograph page of Op 53 in a lengthy interview/conversation translated by Misha Donat - but for not-young eyes, printed dauntingly small, grey on white.


Silvestrov's disc features his own gentle playing in 14 short pieces, developed from improvisations, "music seemingly taking shape in the moment". They are musical miniatures, "a trial run or artistic laboratory", or "the heart of the creative process".

Very much an acquired taste, good for calm late night listening. Also contributing are Alexei Lubimov with the Munchener Kamerorchester/Poppen.

see also Silvestrov's Symphonies nos 5 & 6


Gidon Kremer offers a meaningful juxtaposition of late Mahler and Shostakovich. The adagio of Mahler 10 (before it was completed by other hands posthumously) was adapted for strings and is further arranged by Kamerata Baltica. It makes a powerful, focused impression, a good alternative experience to the original for large orchestra.

Shostakovich's 14th, intended as his last though in the event he achieved one more, is death-pervaded in the poetry set and, in its setting for two alternating soloists, inescapably a reminder of Mahler's Lied von der Erde. Fine singers, especially bass Fedor Kuznetsov, and powerfully expressive playing by strings augmented only with percussion sparingly introduced, this is a fine complement for collections of both composers' symphonies.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* Lucerne2002 - - Schiff declared himsel an unashamed romantic reactionary who dislikes the harpsichord and has no time for those musicologists and practising musicians whose discoveries have enlivened and broadened the appreciation of early music, but whose attitudes he caricatured as 'Kulturfaschismus'.

Although I have no aversion whatsoever to Bach's solo keyboard music on modern piano, Schiff's backlash against the take-over by period specialists gives me no satisfaction, although it clearly delighted the festival audiences at his Lucerne appearances.

I have so enjoyed Schiff’s playing over the years, live and on CD (and on C19th. period pianos as well as on his personal Steinway, specially prepared by Fabrini), that I wonder if the problem is partly that of so many busy soloists, whose schedules leave them little time to reflect and reconsider; the wise recent article The visionary thing by Susan Tomes in the Guardian – and the recently published ABRSM Performers’ Guides - leave no doubt that early music experts are far more tolerant and open minded than András Schiff might believe. [PGW]