András Schiff surprises, educates and delights – Seen and Heard Worldwide

United KingdomUnited Kingdom JS Bach, Beethoven: András Schiff (piano). Wigmore Corridor, London, 22.5.2023. (CSa)

András Schiff at Wigmore Corridor

JS BachRicercare from The Musical Providing, BWV 1079; Two-Half Innovations, BWV 772-801; 4 Duets (Clavier-Übung Half III) BWV 802-805

Beethoven – Sonata in C main Op.53, ‘Waldstein’ (performed twice)

There will not be many classical musicians in the present day who’re able to attracting a capability crowd to a London live performance corridor on a mean Monday night time, whereas maintaining the programme a strict secret. One of many few who will be assured to fill an auditorium to the rafters is Hungarian-born Sir András Schiff, the world-renowned pianist and pedagogue, whose masterful keyboard performances and erudite platform commentaries mix to shock, educate and delight. Schiff’s newest and keenly anticipated Wigmore Corridor recital fulfilled each promise. Viewers hypothesis was heightened by the unexplained presence of two pianos on the stage. The Corridor’s acquainted Seventies Steinway Grand, affectionately referred to as ‘The Outdated Girl’, was immediately recognisable, however the second smaller one, a powerful fortepiano veneered in walnut, proved harder to establish. A little analysis has revealed it to be a contemporary reproduction of an early Romantic instrument by Conrad Graf (c.1819), manufactured by the esteemed instrument maker Paul McNulty, in his workshop in Divisov, Czechoslovakia.

Schiff greeted concertgoers together with his customary beatific smile and a collection of deep bows, his fingers characteristically pressed collectively in a Namaste gesture of welcome. He instantly took his seat on the Steinway and started his recital with a exceptional efficiency of the Ricecare from Bach’s Musical Providing. This monumental six-part fugue was based mostly on a theme composed by the very musical Frederick the Nice of Prussia, who additionally commissioned the work. Some consider that the King might have offered the theme as a sensible joke, within the perception that it could have been unimaginable, even for Bach, to construct a fugue of such complexity upon it. Thought-about by many to be one of the crucial troublesome compositions of all time, Schiff’s mastery was absolute. Combining an ideal command of the intricate counterpoint, with crystalline readability of expression and a finely nuanced dynamic vary, Schiff’s exposition was technically excellent however by no means tutorial. This was an emotionally articulate efficiency crammed with tenderness and humanity.

All 15 of the Two-Half Innovations, written by Bach as a mannequin of extemporisation for his kids, occupied the subsequent a part of the programme. Schiff, microphone in hand, confided that György Kurtág had instructed him to treat every bit as a whole work in itself. ‘Keep in mind to play cantabile and never percussively. Should you hit the piano, it hits you again’. Schiff gave an unblemished account, a trustworthy however free-spirited rendition which was alive to each change of temper. Tempos have been infinitely diversified; notes have been completely noticed, and the phrasing was fantastically formed and contoured. ‘I’ve not as soon as used the sustaining pedal’ Schiff confessed later. ‘Sonority should not come on the expense of counterpoint and readability.’ Nonetheless, Schiff made the Wigmore Corridor’s Steinway sing.

A pointy, anticipatory consumption of breath could possibly be heard when Schiff introduced that the subsequent piece on the programme was to be Beethoven’s Sonata in C main, the ‘Waldstein’. It’s at all times safer to inhale than to cough at a Schiff recital, or one runs the chance of a Dame Edna Everage-style humiliation. ‘Would you want a glass of water? Or would you favor to hold on coughing?’ he requested one mortified member of the viewers, earlier than returning to his topic. ‘The “Waldstein” is one among Beethoven’s best works and an undisputed masterpiece’ he declared. Each justification, then, to listen to it performed earlier than the interval on the Steinway, and once more after the interval on Paul McNulty’s fortepiano. ‘Will probably be an exquisite shock’ promised Schiff, ‘I would like you to get used to a really totally different soundworld.’ His efficiency of the sonata on the ‘Outdated Girl’ was merely magnificent. Fusing luxurious grandeur with edgy vehemence, he captured the drama and urgency of Beethoven’s obsessively repeated chords within the opening motion whereas passages of exquisitely executed ornamentation cascaded like water. Schiff’s suspenseful, mysterious tackle the gradual motion Introduzione ushered in a remaining and energetic Adagio: a boisterous peasant dance by which the pianist’s dexterous left thumb slid up and down the size of the keyboard in a collection of jaw-dropping glissandi.

The second a part of the live performance featured two major works performed on the fortepiano: 4 Duets (Clavier-Übung Half III), and, as promised, a startlingly totally different account of the ‘Waldstein’.

The 4 Duets (Clavier-Übung), or apply items, consult with ‘duets’ however have been written by Bach for one participant with two voices, and have been meant to show college students the artwork of counterpoint and keyboard agility. Though the 4 Duets seem beguilingly easy, every is a posh masterpiece in chromatic development, as demonstrated by Schiff’s efficiency. This was a stunning show of technical ability and textural readability, significantly enhanced by the tender and refined tone of McNulty’s interval instrument.

Might or not it’s mentioned that Schiff’s equally achieved second time account of the ‘Waldstein’ sounded higher on the fortepiano than on a recent live performance grand? Schiff warned that we must modify our expectations and have been more likely to be divided in our response. There have been undoubtedly benefits to listening to the sonata on a replicated instrument of the interval: the sound is definitely extra intimate; decorative passages will be performed with larger delicacy; the opening passages of every motion are marked triple pianissimo and will be extra faithfully and authentically reproduced. There may be additionally the curious satisfaction of listening to the piece as it might have sounded to a nineteenth-century Viennese viewers. Then again, some might argue that the full-bodied symphonic heft of the work was absent, and the drama which present-day audiences have come to count on was thereby diminished. There may be certain to be controversy as to which model sounded finest, however in issues of non-public style there will be no decision. The aim of a Schiff lecture/recital is to not present solutions however to ask questions; to shock, stimulate and educate his viewers, whereas delighting them together with his good and illuminating taking part in. He succeeded on each counts. A pleasant encore, Beethoven’s Bagatelle Op.126, (No.4) rounded off an unforgettable night.

Chris Sallon