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András Schiff, who celebrates his 64th birthday in December, has collaborated before with the Swiss journalist Martin Meyer, who is a dab hand at chatting with pianists, as his Veil of Order: Conversations with Alfred Brendel (Faber & Faber, 2002) indicates. Meyer’s previous book of discussions with Schiff, Beethoven’s Sonatas and their Interpretation (Beethoven-Haus, 2007) is familiar to CD collectors in the form of informative booklet notes to Schiff’s Beethoven sonatas series.

Meyer is nothing if not probing. Apparently dissatisfied with Schiff’s recorded repertory of Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, and Hungarian moderns, he demands to know why the pianist does not play the concerto by Arnold Schoenberg. Schiff explains: ‘Honestly, this piece does not appeal to me so much. All in all, my relationship to Schoenberg is somewhat problematic. Of course, I respect him. But Alban Berg grabs me much more.’

Meyer wonders about Schiff’s views on Ferruccio Busoni, whom the pianist finds a ‘very interesting artist!’ Despite studying Busoni’s Toccata, BV 287, Schiff adds: ‘About the colossal [Busoni] piano concerto, on the other hand, I cannot be particularly enthusiastic.’ So in harmony is Schiff with his interlocutor that when asked a sexist question, he gives a sexist answer.

The query, ‘Is Beethoven more difficult for female pianists than other composers?’ gets this response: ‘There are not very many good female Beethoven players. I know this is a dangerous statement, but it is true. Annie Fischer, who played Beethoven fabulously, was the exception. Beethoven is very masculine, but this must not lead to forcing.’

Asked about early models, Schiff lavishes praise on Arthur Rubinstein, but about Emil Gilels, he states: ‘Strangely, I didn’t like him then. Never. I don’t really know why. [Gilels] has made some beautiful recordings. But when I think about my live experiences – Budapest, London, New York – I have to say that one concert was weaker than the other. Gilels, of course, was an extremely nervous type, who trembled before every concert.’

Of the essays, perhaps the most touching is a tribute to Schiff’s teacher, the pianist and composer Pál Kadosa, who also taught György Ligeti, György Kurtág, Zoltán Kocsis and Dezső Ránki.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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