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Review: Schiff's masterclass.

Byline: Richard Bratby

Andrs Schiff Symphony Hall

Any pianist tackling a Beethoven sonata cycle in chronological order accepts a challenge beyond the purely artistic.

Andrs Schiff, in the third instalment of his cycle, found himself in the foothills of the range, without a single crowd-drawing 'named' sonata on the programme.

That the result was an evening of intimate and revelatory musicmaking should, at the hands of an artist as generous as Schiff, have come as no surprise. The opening bars of Op.49 No.1 established the clarity of his articulation, the care with which he voices chords and his unobtrusive but utterly expressive rubato within individual phrases. Beyond these constants, though, Schiff engaged with each sonata on its own terms. He neither patronised nor over-played the two 'easy' Op.49 works - though his deliciously deadpan account of the minuet of No.2 sealed an already tangible rapport between performer and audienceBut in the first of the Op.14 pair he moved beyond warm-spirited wit. At a measured pace, he reclaimed this clear-textured work for romanticism. Conversely, its companion piece - usually seen as the more romantic - he presented in bright classical daylight. The glee with which he delivered the fortissimo punchline to Beethoven's poker-faced Andante triggered spontaneous applause. By the close of the gloriously daft finale it was becoming hard to keep a straight face.

Which left only the problematic Op.22. It's a virtuosic work, and Schiff enlarged the scale and sonority of his gestures accordingly. But whatever fireworks occurred, the line of the musical argument was clearly articulated, and his controlled approach to the operatic Adagio yielded extraordinary results.

How ominously the shadows lengthened, and how marvellously strange became the harmonies at its centre. Beethoven regarded this as one of his finest sonatas, and Schiff took him at his word


Andrs Schiff
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 8, 2005
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