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Another successful entry in the Masterclass Media Foundation
series is “András Schiff at the International Musicians’ Seminar,
Prussia Cove,” a 45-minute DVD, released in 2007. This session
was held in a room, presumably before a small group of students,
as opposed to a concert hall. The aim of the Masterclass Media
Foundation series is to create a “…unique archive of the world’s
greatest musicians filmed teaching or giving master classes.”
This is the fifth DVD in this series that I’ve seen, and I can
attest to the high level of instruction on these discs.

Pianist András Schiff (1953 – ) is primarily known as an exponent
of the core Central European, Austro-German repertoire. He has
frequently performed cycles of Beethoven’s 32 Sonatas, as well
as copious amounts of Mozart, Schubert and the like. But as he
stated during this masterclass, he believes that it is Johann
Sebastian Bach who occupies the highest tier in the musical
firmament. The work featured here is Bach’s “Partita No. 2 in
C Minor, BWV 826,” which was published along with five others
as a set, in 1731. Composed after his French and English
Suites, the keyboard Partitas were Bach’s last essay in the
form and considered to be the most technically demanding.

This master class DVD differed from others I’ve seen in this
series in that for the benefit of viewers, Schiff provided
voiceover insights about the music while his student,
Andres Carciente, performed the piece on a Bösendorfer.
After this talented pianist completed his performance,
Schiff made various suggestions on how to make the music
“breathe” and “live,” with demonstrations at the keyboard.
He discussed various aspects of tonal color, and at one point
mentioned that this music isn’t just about “…black and white,
but also yellow, green, purple, etc…” Schiff referenced Bach’s
“St. Matthew Passion,” in order to drive home some dramatic
points. It is obvious that Schiff is not only a great Bach performer,
but a Bach scholar as well.

I’ve watched his performances of the “Six English Suites” in
Hungary on DVD. Each piece was preceded by his thoughts on
the music, and I found his execution of these works to be
models of clarity and musicality—which I believe is what he
endeavored to share here with Carciente. As a proponent of
performing Bach on a modern piano, Schiff mentioned that
this music was written for the harpsichord, but belonged to
posterity; hence, he felt it appropriate to play on a modern
piano. Obviously Schiff isn’t alone in this view, because more
pianists play Bach now than ever before. Based upon his
highly effective coaching on this DVD, I look forward to
watching other András Schiff masterclasses and seminars
in this series, and highly recommend this disc.

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