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CD Review András Schiff Plays Schubert on an 1820 Fortepiano

Schiff schubertFrom time to time, I get a bit tired of listening to music. I have a huge music collection, and, every now and then, I get music overload; I simply don’t want to listen to much music, except as background, as a soundtrack to my working days and leisure hours.

But when that happens, one album, one recording invariably snaps me out of that lethargic state. In this case, András Schiff’s recent recording of Schubert piano works on ECM did the trick (, Amazon UK, iTunes Store). I love Schubert; I think that, if there were a zombie apocalypse and I could only save the works of one composer, I would choose Schubert. His lieder, his piano sonatas, his string quartets, and especially his astounding string quintet are all works that connect deeply with me.

This new recording by András Schiff awakened me from my musical stupor. I bought it more than a month ago, and hadn’t had the time to sit down and listen to it correctly, but last night, I did just that, and I was amazed. Amazed by the quality of Mr Schiff’s playing – no surprise there, of course, given his long career playing the works of Schubert and other composers – but also of the delicate sound of the fortepiano he plays on this two-disc set of Schubert’s works.

Schiff was long averse to the idea of original instruments, but in the liner notes of this set, entitled Confessions of a Convert, he explains that “it’s evident that my initial views were wrong and prejudiced.” This is not the first time that Schiff has played on an original instrument. On a recent recording of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, also on ECM (, Amazon UK, iTunes Store), he played the Diabelli on two pianos, a piano made by Franz Brodmann in Vienna in 1820 and a 1921 Bechstein grand.

On this latest Schubert recording, he plays but a selection of piano works on the same fortepiano as the Beethoven, which Schiff has owned since 2010, and which is on loan to the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn. Over nearly two and a half hours, this program includes the six Moments Musicaux, the four D 935 Impromptus, and two sonatas, the D 894 and the majestic D 960, Schubert’s last.

This is one of those rare recordings that captures a perfect confluence of elements: great music, an excellent performer, a delicious sounding instrument, and a near-perfect sound. You may hesitate about a period instrument such as this, and if you’re convinced that only the modern piano, with its m’as-tu vu sound and excessive resonance is the only way to listen to this music, then move along, there’s nothing to see here. If however, you understand that one can really appreciate music like this on the type of instrument for which it was composed, then you should give this recording a listen. Schiff plays this instrument with such joy and delight that it’s hard to stop listening to it.

Schiff presents a recital, a selection of works organized in an order that highlights the music and the instrument. This instrument is muted, it lacks the harsh sonorities of the modern piano, but that hushed sound also gives it a certain strength. You can hear this in the trills of the fourth D 935 Impromptu, where nearly every note is part of a run across the keyboard, yet the piano renders each of these notes clearly and richly. The intimate sound of the recording makes the listener feel that he or she is in front of the piano, right in front of the keyboard, listening closely as the pianist plays just for them. It’s almost disconcerting to hear a piano recorded like this, but the luscious sound of this fortepiano lends itself to such close miking.

Of course, the main attraction of this set is the D 960 sonata, Schubert’s long 21st piano sonata, here just over 39 minutes. Schiff’s playing is nuanced and subtle, but he doesn’t hesitate to use the full volume of his fortepiano in the louder passages of this work. The piano resonates well when the lower register is played, notably in the final movement of the D 960, but it sings in the more lyrical opening movement.

Two and a half hours of Schubert on this nearly 200-year old piano is a rare treat, but one can hope for more. Perhaps Mr Schiff has recorded the other four Impromptus, and a couple more sonatas for another ECM release. If not, I hope he’ll record more music on this beautiful piano in the future.

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The Committed Podcast Discusses Storage, Backups, and Things that Work Well

The Committed Podcast Icon 1400x1400 01In this week’s episode of The Committed podcast, Ian Schray, Rob Griffiths, and I discuss things that work well, and then we take a close look at how we store and back up our data. We learn that Rob’s data storage device cost half as much as my Kia…

Listen to The Committed, Episode 95: “Half as Much as Kirk’s Car”

If you like The Committed podcast, you can subscribe or leave a rating or review on iTunes, or with your favorite podcatcher.

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How Many of You Are Still Using Apple Music?

It’s been two months now, since Apple Music launched. There was a lot of press in the early days about the complicated interface (including many articles I wrote about Apple Music), and the varied features that work or don’t work.

So, two months later, how many people are still using Apple Music? I am, maybe a couple of days a week. I’m not using it a lot, and am mostly using it to listen to music I used to own back in the days of vinyl and never bought on CD. In other words, to listen to oldies (that is, music from the 70s, for the most part).

I’ll be subscribing, not because I think it’s a good service, but simply because I write about Apple products and services, and especially iTunes. If I didn’t write about this stuff, I doubt I’d pay the $10 a month; I’ve got plenty of music to listen to.

What about you, Constant Reader? Are you still using Apple Music? Will you be subscribing when the three-month trial has ended?

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Book Notes: DeadBase 50, the Complete Grateful Dead Database on Paper

Before the internet, there was DeadBase. Not the internet in general, just for Grateful Dead fans and tape traders. DeadBase was first published in 1987, and it contained setlists, lists of dates when each song was played, discographies, and “reviews” of shows that you might have been able to get when trading. I bought my first copy of DeadBase in the mid-1990s, when I started trading tapes, before I shifted to CDs a few years later, and DeadBase was one of the essential tools to know what to look for.

Deadbase 2

Now, DeadBase 50 brings things full circle, with this final edition of the book that covers the Grateful Dead from their first shows in 1965 through the Fare Thee Well shows of July, 2015. Compiled by John W. Scott, Stu Nixon, and Mike Dolgushkin, and with the contributions from hundreds of other contributors, this 992 page book weighs in at 2.5 kg, and costs $90.

DeadBase 50 is full of tables and stats (2,314 shows, 36,534 songs, 484 different songs), with setlists not only for the Dead, but also for each band member’s solo careers. Here’s a spread showing the Europe 72 shows, among others:

Deadbase 1

As you can see, DeadBase 50 is glorious plain text. It’s a book for obsessives. But sometimes, if you’re a Grateful Dead collector, you’ll want to check something in the book.

DeadBase 50 is a bit of a hybrid. It contains the entire 1996 DeadBase XI edition of the book (578 pages), fronted with 400 pages of updates. This makes it a bit unwieldy; you really need to check both sections of the book if you’re looking for a specific song or show, and it would have been a lot better if all the new content had been integrated with the old. It’s also got full updates to GarciaBase, WeirBase, along with new sections containing information about Phil and Friends, Ned Lagin, and Further.

So the organization isn’t great, but that’s okay. Part of the fun of a book like this is the browsing. You look up your favorite songs, then check the dates they were played, and check in your collection to see which show you might want to listen to. Or you flip through some of the concert reviews, provided by a small army of Deadheads, to find a show you remember hearing, or to check out one you’ve never spun.

Get DeadBase 50 if only to have a reminder of the old days, when tape trading depended on a paper database. Or to have a book to flip through from time to time to check out the many great shows the Dead and its members played. It’s a bit anachronistic to buy such a big book these days, when there are websites that contain some of this information, but it brings back memories.

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Tidal Makes Up Stories Blaming Apple for Something it Didn’t Do

I wouldn’t write anything about Tidal – that flea among music streaming services, bought last year and re-branded by one Mr Z – except that the company did something really stupid. In order to try and show that it’s not irrelevant, Tidal blamed Apple for something it didn’t do.

Here’s the deal. There was a charity concert in New Orleans a few days ago, and one Drake was scheduled to sing. Yet Tidal, who was streaming the concert, wasn’t allowed to stream Drake’s performances. Tidal claimed it was Apple that prevented them from doing this, because Drake has an exclusive contract with Apple:

Tidal idiots

Yet BuzzFeed contacted Drake’s manager who said:

“The decision to not have Drake participate in the Tidal steam has nothing to do with Apple or Drake’s deal. Point blank, 100%. I made a business decision. Apple doesn’t have the power to stop us from being part of a live stream. The only people that have the power to do that are Cash Money and Universal, and they’re our partners.”

Tidal, in an attempt to get people to talk about them, make the dumb decision to lie about something and blame it on Apple. Because they’re trying to pretend that they’re David to Apple’s Goliath. Actually, Apple doesn’t care about Tidal, because this tiny streaming service is no threat.

It’s worth noting that one of Tidal’s key selling points is exclusive releases…

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Writings about Macs, music and more by Kirk McElhearn