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Recital of András Schiff, piano

Jennifer Kreingold
February 2016


Photo credit: Dieter Mayr
András Schiff.

Celebrity Series of Boston Presents: András Schiff 
New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall
February 26, 2016
Boston, Massachusetts

At Jordan Hall on Friday night, the well-known and loved Hungarian pianist András Schiff immediately captured the listener. From the very first sound, it was as if the rest of the audience disappeared, as each individual engaged in a profound dialogue with the composer; with Schiff as the interpreter.  One could not have asked for a better program.  Entitled “The Last Sonatas,”  we were treated to Franz Joseph Haydn’s Sonata 62, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata in C minor, Opus 111, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sonata 18, and the finally, the glorious Schubert Sonata in B-flat Major.

Haydn’s joyful Sonata 62 contained moments of Beethoven-esque themes. Schiff created such musical tension, that the audience giggled out loud at the recapitulation of the theme.  There was a sense throughout the entire program of a unity in his interpretation such that he drew out the relationship between all the composers. 

The highlight of the program, and this reviewer’s favorite sonata, was Beethoven’s intensely ethereal Sonata Opus 111, which is rarely understood today perhaps because it is so challenging.  Schiff was able to draw out the various voices and characters of all the sections, such as the fugue section which clearly sounded like Bach, and you had a sense that all the composers were running through his head at every moment.  The “chorale” section was exquisitely tense and beautiful, and clearly demonstrated the emotional struggle between the beauty and pain of immortality, never quite resolving, and never letting up on the tension until after the last note was played.  During the famous “trill” section, Schiff’s gentle touch on the keyboard summoned the sound of angels and peace.  It was so intense, this reviewer’s concentration and that of the audience was thoroughly challenged.

Interview with András Schiff,
Spring 2000, Fidelio Magazine

Schiller Institute: How do you choose what you will occupy yourself with?
As interpreter, it is my task to mediate between the composers and the public, so I dare not be in the limelight; but, I don’t want to be retiring either. I must therefore carefully consider for which works I have a natural affinity. And, in order to discover them, I must be very alone, although solitude doesn’t particularly please me.

Are there works which you would play differently today than earlier?
Time works constantly. A Beethoven sonata after a year, there are only the notes there, it is not yet music. And there are works which one can hardly grasp as a younger man. For the late Beethoven sonatas, I waited until at least age 50.

The second half of the program began with delightful rendition of Mozart’s final sonata, and it was as if Schiff was unfolding Mozart’s idea for the very first time, and creating something at every single note.  The program ended with Schubert’s final sonata in which Schiff captured the characteristic “Lied” melody, and the melancholy, bleak and bare quality of the second movement, and drew a laugh out of the audience upon the beginning of the third movement which begins like a ray of sunshine.

The audience was so appreciative, that Schiff was cheered into two encores of Schubert and Mozart.  It is rare today to hear a performer truly submit themselves to the composer, and Schiff demonstrated his commitment to that, and to uplifting and moving the souls and minds of the audience.