During the past few years, ECM has released, CD by CD, Andras Schiff's extraordinary performances of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas.

Recorded live, in Zurich's Tonhalle, they represent what the pianist has described as a "stupendous journey," through music that's the equivalent of a vast mountain range, like the Himalayas.

ECM has now made these recordings available as a handsome nine volume set, including a bonus disc, Encores after Beethoven, that is also available separately.

After Schiff's highly individual interpretations of familiar Beethoven, including a particularly mist-laden Moonlight Sonata, his choice of encores is far from arbitrary. The pianist's eloquent booklet essay reflects on the psychology of performance and audience, including a plea for us to remember that musicians are not machines or jukeboxes.


This is no collection of conciliatory bonbons. All 11 tracks had been planned to extend the music that preceded them, as when Beethoven's popular Andante favori, the original slow movement of the Waldstein Sonata, followed the playing of that work.

A meltingly beautiful Bach Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor must have astonished Zurich concertgoers in 2006 when it emerged in the wake of the spectacular fugal finale of the Hammerklavier Sonata.

Yet the music on Encores after Beethoven also functions as a thoughtful and exquisitely delivered recital in its own right.

Those accustomed to hearing Schubert on Schiff's favoured fortepiano will be surprised at the new sonorities that he draws from a modern instrument for three pieces by that composer; they may even be startled when a final chord takes 10 whole seconds to die away before the audience can applaud.

The ornamentation of two Bach Minuets seems even lighter and wittier than when it first delighted us in 2007 and a briskly adventurous Mozart Gigue makes its piquant point in well under two minutes.

Most revealingly, when Schiff offers a Haydn sonata he first recorded in 1999, its exquisitely modulated textures and phrasing suggest another significant life-journey that this artist has made.

What: Andras Schiff, Encores after Beethoven (ECM, through Ode Records)
Rating: 5/5
Verdict: Pianist comes up with just the right encores after Himalayan Beethoven