This double album represents a change of heart for pianist András Schiff, who once publicly ridiculed the idea of "playing Schubert
sonatas on Graf fortepianos." He recounts his evolution and something of his philosophy in using a historical piano in an elegant booklet essay that some might find worth the price of admission. The same might be said of ECM's engineering here, which exceeds even its usual high standard and catches Schiff's whispered low notes with startling clarity. The recording was made in the chamber music room of the Beethovenhaus in Bonn, where Schiff's piano -- an 1820 Brodmann model from Vienna, once owned by the last Austro-Hungarian royal family, not a Graf -- usually resides. Those absolutely opposed to historical performance are likely to be repelled by Schiff's reading here, which spends a great deal of time at low decibel levels. But listen again: Schiff finds a great deal that's new in the music. The closing "Piano Sonata in B flat major, D. 960," is perhaps the best of all, with the low trills that underpin the opening movement taking on subtle but vast expressive power. Schiff takes the slow movement at a fairly brisk clip and effectively turns it into a kind of nocturne in a way no one else has done. His muscular style is not submerged, but he adds to it a new expressive vocabulary that carries nothing of the somewhat reluctant tone players of modern instruments often bring to historical-instrument performances: Schiff has clearly thought these readings through, and felt them through. The shorter works on the album have as much weight as the two large sonatas. An extraordinary achievement.