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Andras Schiff's 'Franz Schubert: Piano Sonatas' Makes Iowa Public Radio's 2015 Mega-Meta-List

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Today's output of classical albums is (pardon me while I scribble on the back of an envelope) something like triple what it was a generation ago. I won't vouch for that exact ratio, but I will for Anne Midgette's description of how it feels: "Keeping up with the stream of new releases is like trying to drink from a fire hose." Now imagine trying to capture a hose's jet-spray in a bucket, and you'll see why making a classical "best-of-year" list in 2015 struck many writers as a thankless task, even a hopeless one. Yet that didn't stop more of us than ever from trying - perhaps enough of us to be called a crowd. Could that crowd, taken together, have some kind of collective wisdom?

That was more or less the premise behind my "Classical Mega-Meta-List" last year (inspired by economist /blogger Tyler Cowen). I tallied every "best of year" list I could find - a total of 36, comprising about 100 writers.  This year I found far more: 64 lists, with at least 160 contributors, which makes this year's meta-list 60-77% more mega. It's not surprising that almost twice as many releases made the final cut, defined by being chosen for more than three best-of-year lists. Last year, 28 albums reached that threshold; this year, 50 albums did. That's a 78% increase.

Andras Schiff's 'Franz Schubert: Piano Sonatas' received 8-10 votes in this pole.

Some years ago, this Hungarian ex-pat recorded Schubert sonatas on a modern piano, and in his liner notes mocked the idea of playing them on an instrument of the sort Schubert used. (Those early "fortepianos" had frames made of wood rather than metal, leather rather than felt hammers, special pedals, and less-tense strings whose sounds decay faster. Also, the strings don't cross over each other as in a modern piano, so the low and high registers contrast more.) But a few years ago, Schiff heard and fell in love with an 1820 fortepiano, purchased it, and found that on it some of Schubert's piano writing made sense to him as never before. Listen, e.g., to his playing of the triplet passage near the end of the exposition of D. 960's first movement. His booklet note is nicely titled "Confessions of a Convert." The instrument seems to have inspired Schiff to play Schubert with extra poetry, which he conveys with subtleties of sound that ECM's engineers capture beautifully. Don't download lossy mp3s, by the way - you need to hear this one in excellent sound for it to work its magic.

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