András Schiff Beethoven

Piano Sonatas:
G minor, Op.49/1
G, Op.49/2
E, Op.14/1
G, Op.14/2
G minor, Op.22

András Schiff (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 2 March, 2005
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This was the second recital in András Schiff’s survey of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas at the Wigmore Hall. He has chosen to play them in order of composition rather than publication, thus the Op.49 sonatas preceded those of Op.14. In both Op.49 works Schiff deployed a limited dynamic range, crisp articulation and virtually no rubato or pedal; this was very much Beethoven in the style of Haydn or Mozart. Unfortunately this approach verged on clinical detachment. These works are not among the composer’s greatest, and they need more tonal variety and rhythmic subtlety than this to bring the music to life.

Unfortunately, a similar approach was adopted for the rest of the recital. In the first movement development of Op.14/1 there was no sense of growth or tension and the finale was lifeless. In the second movement of Op.14/2 Schiff used more pedal and variety of tone, but to no avail – everything was still too self-contained. In the first movement of Op.22, the second subject brought no real contrast in mood and the phrasing as a whole was foursquare, a big minus in music which is thematically undistinguished. And while the Adagio found a more sonorous tone with the move to the minor suitably dark and introspective, creating a very powerful effect, the Minuet didn’t dance and the rondo finale was heavily accented and unsmiling.

The programme notes contained an interview by Martin Meyer in which Schiff remarks that in the first movement of Op.49/2 the second subject is a beautiful operatic duet while the semiquavers of the upbeat in the last movement of Op.22 should be “singing with body and soul”. The trouble is that his playing contained little in the way of such characterisation. It was Beethoven seen from afar, very intellectual, very detached, but ultimately unsatisfying.

As an encore Schiff played Haydn’s G minor Sonata – with both repeats – in the same inexpressive manner. It will be interesting to see if his approach changes as he progresses through the later sonatas, but this recital was seriously lacking in Beethovenian spirit.

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