András Schiff – Beethoven

Beethoven
Piano Sonata in E, Op.109
Piano Sonata in A flat, Op.110
Piano Sonata in C minor, Op.111

András Schiff (piano)


Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 29 November, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Reading András Schiff’s learned, detailed, programme notes, extracted from his lecture–recitals on Beethoven’s piano sonatas, was to be reminded how steeped he is in the Classical style, and to see how high the standard of interpretation he has set himself.

In general, Schiff fulfilled these promises in the second recital of this evening comprising this programme; this was Beethoven not as a tortured Romantic but as the fulfilment of Classicism; these sonatas were, as Schiff had written, a survey of the possibilities of the style, a valediction by exposition, not by sentimental farewell. In their interior quality and deep intellectualism, Schiff also played these last sonatas as a musical development, not separate from, but certainly a step beyond the remainder of the sonata corpus.

Schiff’s habit, beloved of Wilhelm Kempff, of playing slow movements faster and fast movements slower than the average, gave the music a magnificent sense of clarity and flow, nowhere more impressively than in the second and last movement, a Theme and Variations, of Opus 111. Each of these three sonatas has its finale as the most important movement; the triptych moved, therefore, to Opus 111 as the culmination of the recital and of the whole Sonata journey.

Schiff rose to this challenge; the first movement was solid and authoritative, technically secure except for a few bars at the start of the development. Then, the Variation sequence drew the listener in, unfolded as an enraptured drama in which every moment not to be missed, and was resolved at the close in absolute certainty.

In retrospect, it seemed that Schiff had held himself back for this moment. The remainder of the recital was cerebral, controlled, occasionally to the point of repression. Again, it was as if, by seeing the finales as the works’ high-points, Schiff was anxious to tone preceding movements down. The first two of Opus 109 were presented almost as introductions, In Opus 110, the fey scherzo was cautious, and the finale was played with a certain reserve; for example, Schiff made little of the seemingly endless crescendo of repeated chords just before the fugue returns inverted, a passage made into high drama by such as Kovacevich, and, in Pollini’s anachronistically virtuoso approach – much faster allegros – breathtaking in its way, something that Schiff did not attain until the very last movement.

Schiff has few living peers in Beethoven, and he is a leading example of fidelity and respect – stylistically and academically – of perfect correctness. It left me yearning for the Beethoven as played by Kempff, Gilels, Solomon or, indeed, Pollini, interpreters who have stamped their personalities so indelibly on the music.



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