Tuesday, April 08, 2008

András Schiff Beethoven Cycle

Sunday April 6, 2008 7:00 PM
Davies Symphony Hall
András Schiff, piano
Beethoven Piano Sonatas Nos. 19, 20, 9, 10, 11
Encore: Bach Partita #1

Now that Schiff is a known quantity to me, I settled into my seat secure in the knowledge that this would be an evening with a lot to admire. The program began with a pair of short sonatas. Though these are light pieces, Schiff made them substantial with his full & solid sound. He ornamented both of them, which added a nice improvisatory element. In fact, Schiff's playing often has this feeling, as though even he isn't quite sure what is going to happen next. It's a fine illusion, since at the same time it's obvious that he's worked out very detailed interpretations.

He made the Sonata No. 10 into a small comedic masterpiece. In the 2nd movement theme-and-variations, Schiff teased us with the short, overly-insistent repeated notes of the theme. It was so captivating that the audience burst into applause immediately after its coyly explosive ending. Or maybe they simply mis-counted the movements. Schiff ended the final movement with a bit of physical humor, throwing down the final 3-note figure with his left hand just as he stood up to take a bow.

I really like Schiff's incisive phrasing & solid sound. I feel like he's on top of every note when he presses down those keys. So far he has been very sparing in his use of he pedal. He often uses an effect where the sound has a definite start & cut-off, as if the sound just stops instead of decaying.

More importantly, Schiff has ideas & communicates them. For instance, when the fugal entrances occur during No. 11, the sense of something urgent & emphatic happening is unmistakable. No. 11 was the major sonata in this grouping & the only piece after intermission. He filled out this short 2nd half with a virtuoso rendition of the Bach Partita No. 1 in B-flat major. His playing was crystal clear & unfussy. I especially enjoyed the introspective Sarabande & the effortlessly swift & even Gigue. It was as good as anything else in the program.

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