I can always count on András Schiff to provide excellent
renditions of the core Central European piano repertoire,
and his performances depicted on the 2006 DVD,
“Joseph Haydn: Piano Works” are no exception.
As with his other performances on DVD, Maestro Schiff
discusses each of the works he performs, shedding light
on the historical background of the works and on Haydn’s
career, and music in general. In addition, these piano pieces
are interspersed with short, two to three-minute
documentary films about both the Esterházy castle and its
namesake family who employed Haydn for 30 years,
starting in 1761. Therefore, this two-hour and 25-minute
disc provides historical lessons and a lecture recital. By the
way, it should be noted that the 225-minute running time
printed on the cover of this disc is in error.
Maestro Schiff performs six works that span Haydn’s entire
oeuvre of compositions for solo keyboard, beginning with
the “Capriccio in G major” from 1765 and ending with the
“Sonata in E-Flat Major” of 1794, which was the last piece
Haydn wrote for the piano. These works serve as bookends
for Schiff’s performances of the “Sonata in E Minor” from
1784, the “Fantasia in C Major” of 1789, the
“Sonata in C Minor” of 1771, and the “Variations in F Major”
Although performing these works on a modern Bösendorfer
piano, Maestro Schiff’s performances are nonetheless
historically informed with a light, clear touch and superb
articulation. After all, he studied in London with the
famous harpsichordist, George Malcolm (1917-1997).
These performances were given in the Esterházy castle,
which provided the proper atmosphere. In his playing,
Maestro Schiff repeatedly demonstrated his contention
that Haydn’s music was often infused with humor. Clearly,
he loves these pieces very much, and he looks forward
to a time when Haydn’s music isn’t underappreciated.
I personally can’t honestly rank these works at the same
level as the finest solo piano repertoire from Mozart or
Beethoven, but I remind myself that Haydn’s compositional
output included music from virtually all of the Classical
music genres, with particularly significant contributions to
the string quartet and symphonic forms. In fact, he more
or less created the “template” for these genres.
Masses, oratorios, operas, other vocal and
chamber music—you name it, he wrote it!
The recorded sound on this disc is in Dolby Digital 5.1
PCM Stereo, and is quite good. There are available subtitle
options in four languages. I highly recommend this DVD
for a multitude of reasons. It features playing of the
highest order and is also a wonderful educational tool.