András Schiff

Rondo in A minor, K511
Sonata in A, K331
Fantasia in D minor, K397
Adagio in B minor, K540
Rondo in D, K485
Sonata in A minor, K310

András Schiff (piano)

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 17 August, 2006
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Mozart’s piano music remains one of the most elusive areas of the repertoire; it must be simple without being facile, it requires technical mastery, but not extrovert virtuosity, feeling but not sentimentality, depth, but not pomposity. Schnabel’s endlessly quoted opinion – “too easy for children, too difficult for adults” – sums up the problem.

András Schiff raised the bar as high as possible in his late-night Prom, choosing Mozart’s best-known solo pieces. The Royal Albert Hall, in my experience, is in fact remarkably well-suited to the intimate projection of instrumental and chamber music – it needed no printed apology in the programme from Schiff, who clearly also enjoyed the experience. That said, the opening Rondo seemed lacking in tone colours, and the woody sound of Schiff’s 40-year-old Bösendorfer was not heard at its full warmth until the middle of the recital.

Indeed, it was the most famous piece that best showed Schiff’s talents. On a ‘period’ instrument, in a small room, the ‘Turkish’ rondo that concludes the A major sonata would have been loud and clangourous; such an interpretation would be impossible in the RAH, so Schiff delivered a witty, humorous, every Viennese performance instead.

Anyone already familiar with Schiff’s fastidious Mozart-playing – neat, correct, decorated with improvised ornaments as a mode of expression, and rhythmically precise – would not have been surprised. Yet Schiff retained the capacity to startle by stitching together the Fantasia, Adagio and D major Rondo into a tremendously effective ersatz sonata. The Fantasia (played as Mozart left it, incomplete) was the highlight of the recital – from its very first phrase played with great drama, rhetoric and character, and concluding with an innocent, gamine-like allegretto. The Rondo made perfect sense as a concerto-like finale.

Schiff’s approach was not uniformly successful; at times his rhythmical pulse gave an excessively static feel to the music – the B minor Adagio rather lost its way and the earthbound character of K331’s Minuet was not disguised. Following a classical, rather restrained account of the dramatic A minor sonata, it was perhaps ill-advised of Schiff to play two encores (including the brief if unusual Eine kleine Gigue) when so much of the audience was rushing for the exits to get home. But, overall, this was a triumphantly successful recital.

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