ECM New Series is better known for its documentation of contemporary works, but the music of the past sometimes receives coverage when artists bring a new perspective to it. The Diabelli Variations, Op. 120; the Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111; and the Six Bagatelles, Op. 126, are among the most original and intellectually stimulating works Ludwig van Beethoven composed for the piano, and the sophisticated interpretations of András Schiff are especially worthwhile for their insights into authentic performance practice and reception. Here, Schiff gives the listener options between a relatively modern sounding version of the Diabelli Variations and a period interpretation, without favoring one or the other. On the first CD he plays the Sonata and the Diabelli Variations on a Bechstein piano from 1921, though with minimal pedaling and a restrained execution that allows every inner voice and subtle dynamic to be appreciated. While this piano is not as hard or bright sounding as a modern Steinway, it is familiar to modern ears and most listeners will readily accept it. On the second CD, Schiff plays the Diabelli Variations, along with the Six Bagatelles, on a smaller sounding Franz Brodmann fortepiano, an original instrument from around 1820, Beethoven's time period.
Though Puccini represents the late-Romantic apex of the Italian operatic tradition, his songs are much less well known and, in their pared simplicity and emotional restraint, could hardly be more different from his stage works. The nineteen complete songs for soprano (two in duet with a mezzo) and piano cover themes typical of lyric poetry including life, death, personal resolution, love, nature, home and religious faith. There are also rare salon pieces and examples of Puccini’s secular and sacred juvenilia, written between 1875 and 1880.
This recording lives up to its title. In his prime, Phineas Newborn had phenomenal technique (on the level of an Oscar Peterson), a creative imagination, and plenty of energy. These trio sessions (with Leroy Vinnegar or Sam Jones on bass and either Milt Turner or Louis Hayes on drums) feature Newborn displaying plenty of heat and fresh ideas on compositions by Bud Powell, Bobby Timmons, Benny Golson, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, and Miles Davis (along with two of his own). This is piano jazz at its highest level.