The cellist and conductor Heinrich Schiff has died

Gramophone Fri 23rd December 2016

Born on November 18, 1951; Died on December 23, 2016

The cellist and conductor Heinrich Schiff has died in Vienna, he was 65.

A number of his recordings were highly praised in Gramophone's pages, including his collaboration with violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann for ECM New Series in 2006, featuring parts of Bach's Die Kunst der Fugue alongside works by Honegger, Pintscher and Ravel. This recording was awarded an Editor's Choice, with Guy Rickards concluding: 'With state-of-the-art sound, is this the best violin-and-cello duo disc around? I think it might be.'  

Ivan March said of Schiff's account of Bach's Cello Suites that 'the performances are splendidly paced; Bach’s linear flow is effortlessly phrased and moves forward with fine spontaneity. Rostropovich has also recorded these supreme cello masterpieces for EMI (6/95), evoking an enormous range of expression, but Schiff’s less flamboyant style is every bit as satisfying. Very highly recommended.'

When Schiff recorded the Haydn Cello Concertos with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields in 1988, Stephen Johnson asked him what he thought about period performance. Schiff replied: 'I think it's dreadful that so few players use the Urtext editions. Even if you're going to make changes, you should still work from the original - not from a modern or romantic edition, which after all is just a record of how one performer played it. There's been a Henle Urtext edition of the Haydn for over ten years, and young, intelligent, genuinely interested cellists don't even know about it! But I have to say that I think music of the Classical period is very much mistreated. Take the Mozart violin concertos. If you hear any of the top ten violinists playing them it's beautiful sound, fine technique, but the style is hopelessly wrong - it's almost a different language. That's Mozart - so what chance have Haydn cello concertos?'

Fellow cellist Natalie Clein chose Schiff as her hero in a recent issue of Gramophone, saying: 'So many of his recordings have become cornerstones for my generation of cellists. His famous Bach Suites from the early 1980s are one of the first (and still most beautiful and succesful) attempts to combine 'performance-practice' knowledge and modern cello technique The Lutoslawski concerto with the composer conducting is another benchmark recording and the raw cellistic genius that sparkles in the Vieuxtemps, Vivaldi and 'encore' discs takes my breath away every time I hear them!'

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