In an age of overblown conducting stars, his lack of ego and vanity is all the more remarkable. Schiff goes on to say that Klemperers humanity, razor-sharp intellect, sense of rhythm, and grasp of form and structure are always in the service of the composer we must always remember him as a monumental musician. Indeed.
Schiff doesnt emulate Klemperers rock-hewn, monolithic interpretations; he does though have an innate grasp of architecture and has formed a rather special relationship with the Philharmonia.
As pianist, Schiff has his back to the audience, sitting between antiphonal violins, looking into the woodwind and the four double basses behind them (the pianos lid is removed); cellos are left-centre effectively Klemperers, and today, Dohnanyis layout, albeit their basses are left-positioned. (Schiff has presumably re-thought his divided double basses from last year; it looked odd.)
The closeness between Schiff and the Philharmonia is evident in the chamber dialoguing and complementing that informs every bar played; theirs is a mutual and rewarding trust. Whether Schiff is too self-effacing is arguable his Beethoven is fleet, ever-thoughtful and wholly discriminating; he eschews gruffness and explosion. He disguised the finales Hungarian or gypsy-sounding episode (to quote the programme notes) so it was less a portent of swing and the night-club (cue Friedrich Gulda for such allusions).
Schiff converses with his fellow musicians, the Philharmonia reciprocate with playing that is light, sensitive, wonderfully together and insightful not only to the music itself but to Schiffs particular colours and inflexions, and his sensibilities; equally, he responds to the Philharmonias compassion. Good conversation certainly, but might Beethoven have been more forceful, even argumentative, in his contribution?
If rarefied Beethoven loses the composer his down-to-earth expression, such an approach didnt stop Schiff opting for the biggest and zaniest of Beethovens three cadenzas; Schiff cut loose here, but within clearly defined parameters. He did too in Beethovens cadenzas for the Mozart, though, in the context of a romantic impression of K466 (overt emotionalism eschewed), this shouldnt be taken as X-certificate pianism. Mozarts slow movement was beguilingly brought off at a tempo far swifter than the norm; Romanza has no tempo indication Schiffs Allegretto was very convincing. The finales piano and woodwind dialoguing will long be remembered; here the intimacy of the drawing-room was suggested as Schiff and friends forgot the large hall and made chamber music.
Whatever doubts Schiffs pristine and intimate approach may raise in music that is jubilantly out-reaching and explicitly passionate, theres no doubting his aerated orchestral textures and poetic interplay are delights in themselves, especially when the Philharmonia is so pertinently involved in the discourse; this is an orchestra where individual input and corporate hospitality turn on a sixpence.
As a Haydn conductor, Schiffs refreshing advocacy of this wondrous music warrants considerable attention. Last years symphonies 88 and 95 introduced Schiff as a Haydn interpreter who really appreciates the composers genius for imagination and colour. No.83, one of the miraculous Paris symphonies, found Schiff tenderly espousing Haydns ability to touch nerves with unexpected harmonic twists, as in the slow movement. The first movements return to Haydns storm and stress period was dramatically realised actually Schiff is a more demonstrative conductor than he is pianist and the second subjects clucking found Schiff paring-down dynamics and tone to almost nothing. A robust minuet was offset by an enchanting trio, Haydns new instrument formed by solo violin and flute fully relished by James Clark, Ken Smith and the conductor. The finale far too fast! was nevertheless brilliantly articulated and interlocked; one wanted more time to savour it.
Its more of the same this Thursday, 12 July, when Ying Chang will be your Classical Source reviewer. Doubts persist about it all being too considered, too friendly; yet Schiff and the Philharmonia are becoming a hot partnership in which musical subtlety is all and pretension is forbidden. Some of Klemperers granite wouldnt go amiss though.
- This Thursday, 12 July, in the RFH, Schiff and the Philharmonia play Beethovens PC2 and Mozarts No.21; the Haydn symphony is No.82, The Bear
- Box Office: 020 7960 4242
- www.sbc.org.uk (no booking fee)
- Schiff and the Philharmonia appear at this years Edinburgh International Festival Cosi fan tutte, Bach piano concertos and more! 13-17 August www.eif.co.uk
- The Otto Klemperer Series returns to the RFH on October 4 and 9 Schiff plays concertos by Beethoven and Schumann, and conducts Bach and Haydn