Insights Are Not Always Illuminating

09/04/2018

Schumann, Brahms, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven: Sir András Schiff (piano), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 31.3.2018. (BJ)

SchumannGeistervariationen WoO.24
Brahms – Three Intermezzos Op.117; Six Piano Pieces Op.118;  Four Piano Pieces Op.119
Mozart – Rondo in A minor K.511
Bach – Prelude and Fugue No.24 in B minor BWV869
Beethoven – Piano Sonata in E-flat major Op.81a, Les Adieux

Such was the richly searching range of touch that Sir András Schiff brought to bear on an exceptionally fine Bösendorfer 280VC grand, and so seductive the tone he elicited from it, that no more than a minute or so was needed to establish beyond doubt the presence of a major artist. He played the entire program in, as it were, two breaths, segueing smoothly from one piece to the next, and relying on a telling exploitation of textural variety to highlight the shifting character of the music, from the darkly brooding intensity of the last piano work Schumann wrote, the Geistervariationen, WoO 24 (rarely heard, but played here a couple of years ago by Imogen Cooper), and the chiseled poise of Mozart’s A-minor Rondo, to the kaleidoscopic repertoire of moods that Brahms was able to bring to even his most modestly scaled creations.

Thus far, then, this was at once a riveting demonstration of musical affinities and contrasts, devised in a way that asserted the pianist’s insights from the very start of the evening. It took rather longer for me to realize an aspect of his approach that, after intermission, seemed markedly less successful. The lightbulb moment for me came with the onset of the main Allegro theme in the first movement of the Beethoven sonata. Here, quite appropriately, Schiff dashed off with glorious freedom of phrase and clarity of articulation. The effect was undeniably exciting. But it served also to reveal what it is about the idea of passing uninterruptedly from one piece in a program to another that can undermine the effect of each.

A composer, whether consciously or instinctively, sets up a range of contrasts that is specific to the work he is writing. If the Beethoven sonata had followed the traditional pause after the preceding Brahms group, perhaps allowing the audience to express its appreciation and the pianist to relax his mind and his limbs, all would have been well. But when that revelatory moment in the first movement came, it had to stand up in the evening’s Brahms-Beethoven continuity against a wider range of contrasts, some of which were no part of either Brahms’s or Beethoven’s planning, and the result was to make the theme and its treatment seem almost chaotic in its detachment from either composer’s intentions.

At that point, I’m afraid, Sir András lost me. But never mind. The playing itself continued to be wonderful, and there could be no questioning the response it aroused from an audience that clearly loved everything it was hearing.

Bernard Jacobson

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! The 2018 BBC Proms __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera Celebrates its 25th Anniversary with Nicolò Isouard’s Cinderella __________________________________
  • NEW! Pop-Up Opera’s 2018 Mozart Double Bill __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Let’s Dance International Frontiers (LDIF) 2018 Celebrates its Eighth Year __________________________________
  • NEW! Gloucester Choral Society’s Hubert Parry’s Centenary Celebrations in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Chess at the London Coliseum from 26 April for 5 Weeks __________________________________
  • NEW! The Three Choirs Festival 2018: A Preview __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Season at the Royal Opera House __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018 Cheltenham Music Festival – 30 June to 15 July __________________________________
  • NEW! Staatsoper Unter de Linden in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! St Petersburg Ballet Theatre Bring Swan Lake to London in August __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces its 2018-19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2018-19 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Booking Open for Longborough Festival Opera 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! Additional Tickets Now Available for Nevill Holt Opera’s Le nozze di Figaro __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder’s Four-Day Celebration of Art Song in April 2018 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Massenet’s Thaïs at the Cadogan Hall on 23 June __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Carly Paoli Sings for Chelsea Pensioners, at Cadogan Hall, and Signs for Sony/ATV __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • NEW! A First Charity Classical Music Concert at Finchcocks on 27 May __________________________________
  • NEW! MICHAEL SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! Trinity Laban Moves to Abolish All-Male Composer Concerts __________________________________
  • NEW! ARABELLA STEINBACHER IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella in Cinemas on 15 May with Live Q&A __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR LAURENCE EQUILBEY IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • NEW! Newly Discovered Song by Alma Mahler to be Performed in Oxford and Newbury __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH LISETTE OROPESA AS SHE RETURNS TO LA OPERA FOR ORFEO ED EURIDICE __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH ANDREA CARÈ AS HE RETURNS TO COVENT GARDEN AS DON JOSÉ __________________________________
  • NEW! Rafael de Acha Introduces Some of Cincinnati’s New Musical Entrepreneurs __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month