Sunday, September 4, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

Lunchtime with Ludwig, although this three-course menu was more of an evening meal. András Schiff offered an aperitif, the E-major ‘Prelude & Fugue’ from Book II of J. S. Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier, a pertinent opener, from sublime Bach to equally sublime Beethoven, his Opus 109 Piano Sonata, also in E, launched attacca, Schiff extemporising the first movement, playing-down the fire of the second and, surprisingly, being matter-of-fact with the Theme of the Finale, the Variations of the whole lacking the last degree of spirituality if not spontaneity, Schiff revealing the music’s expressive largesse as if penned exclusively for him. Yet, there was some phrasal squareness, the occasional awkwardness of execution, which continued into Opus 110 (A-flat), small things that slightly detracted, yet the listener was sucked-in to the greatness of the music by a pianist who has its soul as part of his being, although likewise to 109, 110’s Scherzo was hampered by a tempo surely more to do with accommodating Schiff’s fingers; nevertheless, the remainder of the Sonata delved deep into possibilities, whether reiteration, fugue or transporting us somewhere that is not on this Earth. Schiff ran the movements one to another, and he hoped for silence between the Sonatas (standard for Schiff these days whatever the repertoire), broken by vacuous clapping from a minority following 110 (and cueing the Radio 3 announcer to also chip in!). The first movement of Opus 111 (C-minor) included the exposition repeat but lacked for gruffness, momentum and volatility, technically uncomfortable, too, but the succeeding ‘Arietta’ reached the greatest heights, the Variations (the ‘boogie-woogie’ one unexpectedly swinging and scintillating) flowed inexorably, ethereally and momentously to the simplest of arrivals, emotional and musical complexities resolved, nothing left to say.