Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Schiff Beethoven Cycle V

Sun, Oct 12, 2008 7:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall
Piano Sonatas Nos. 16, 17, (Tempest), 18, and 21 (Waldstein)
Encore: Bach Italian Concerto

András Schiff is now halfway through his complete Beethoven Piano Sonata cycle that began a year ago. From his comments in the program notes, it's clear he works hard to give each sonata its own character & to place it in context with the others. Indeed, his detailed interpretations make me feel that I am inadequate to understand all the nuances. Fortunately he plays a clear intent, & it is easy to follow the musical character of everything. I have been enjoying & admiring these recitals a great deal.

He played the 1st 3 sonatas all before intermission, leaving the stage briefly between each one. This made for a 1st half lasting 1 hour & 25 minutes, but Schiff never showed any signs of fatigue. Sonata No. 16 was humorous & joking. Schiff got a laugh out of the audience in the coda to the last movement, teasing us with what might or might not be the last chord.

The Tempest Sonata was the dark heart of the 1st half. In the middle movement, Schiff created mysterious & impressionist effects, plucking out notes with the sustain pedal down while previous harmonies lingered. It makes me want to know more about Beethoven's pedal markings. Schiff took the last movement significantly slower than my reference for the piece, a recording by Schnabel. It was as if his hands were slowed down by some viscous fluid.

No. 18 was lively & virtuosic, so much so that some miscued applause broke out after the 2nd movement. Schiff looked up momentarily towards the terrace, as if to say, "Wait, there's more!" This got a brief laugh as well.

Schiff pulled out the stops technically for the Waldenstein. In previous recitals, I sat at the back of the 1st tier, but this time I was closer to the stage, so I could really hear how much variety he has in his touch. His playing can be bouncy or he can get deep into the keys. He sometimes tries to add vibrato by shaking a key after he's struck it. I think his technique is expanding with the character of the pieces. There were moments in the program that sounded like Chopin.

The audience gave him an immediate standing ovation at the end. By now we know to expect a substantial encore, so nobody moved during the calls back to the stage. I let out a little "Wow!" when Schiff announced "Bach Italian Concerto" as the encore. He was about to turn to the keyboard, then he stopped and added, "3 movements." I don't think anyone was insulted, there was more laughter, & the evening ended with a terrifically fun encore.

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