By Jordan Buchholtz, KCMetropolis
Sir András Schiff triumphantly returned to the Folly Theater to perform the last piano sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert.
This season’s theme for The Friends of Chamber Music series is late works by great masters. Sir András Schiff came to the Folly Theater last March and performed selected late sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. This time, he played the last piano sonatas by these same composers. A wonderful and meaty program, Schiff demonstrated the extreme focus and detailed attention that these sonatas need to successfully be performed.
First on the program was Haydn’s Sonata No. 62 in E-flat Major. Schiff chose a comfortable tempo for the Allegro; many people play this movement too fast. The music had a sense of grandiose and an energized spirit, but it was calm enough to make every note sing. The balance between the hands, the melody and accompaniment, was impeccable as was his soft dynamic. Schiff played the beginning descending thirds scale in the right hand more legato instead of staccato and crisp, which is how most people play it. He rolled a lot of the left hand chords in the music, which is perhaps reminiscent of the classical style on the fortepiano. Schiff didn’t waste any time as he moved directly into the Adagio. He established a great tempo and flow of the music. He enjoyed every moment of each note, never rushing the music. The middle section was phenomenal, the character was interesting and the scales in the right hand that come out of nowhere were flawless. Again, Schiff moved right into the next movement, the Presto. The tempo was zippy, but every note could still be heard. On the repeat of the beginning section, Schiff added trills and other embellishments in the right hand. It’s nice to hear a different interpretation and to see pianists adding embellishments on the repeats; it adds more charm to the piece.
Beethoven’s Sonata No. 32 in C Minor Op. 111 was second on the program. A beast of a piece, Schiff successfully captured the intensity of the first movement and the serene “out-of-world” character of the second. There is a controversy whether to use one or two hands in the beginning chords of the first movement, Schiff used two hands on the first one and then proceeded to use only one on the rest. He had a great sound in the bass and a stark, cold theme of three notes. At the Fugue, Schiff took an emphatic tempo, listening and drawing our attention to each line and every time the theme was repeated. The second movement cannot be a more drastic mood shift from the first. Leaving the complexity of the previous movement behind, the opening to the second movement was graceful as Schiff created a simple and pristine persona with his sound. He had unbelievably beautiful long phrases, even with all the two note slurs throughout the movement. The middle section is almost jazzy in nature because of the dotted rhythms, which was a fun contrast to the rest of the movement. Schiff definitely captured all the moods of this movement and the essence of Beethoven’s life that is written into this piece.
Next, Schiff played Mozart’s Sonata No. 18 in D Major, K. 576, also known as “The Hunt” sonata. Overall, Schiff is always focused on the counterpoint in the music, but he never lets that distract from the overall picture. He had nice fluidity with all the scalier passages and chose a moderate, conservative tempo for the Allegro. His use of the pedal was just enough to change the color of his sound at times. Mozart’s music requires exacting rhythms with the right moments to take time, a classical rubato and not a romantic use of rubato. Schiff found the right character in this piece; he was rhythmic but still had a wonderful sound. Like in the Haydn sonata, Schiff did not waste any time between movements. The Allegretto was spirited and lighthearted with a brisk tempo. Again, he added embellishments when the theme returned in the end.
To end the program, Schiff played Schubert’s powerful Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960. He started from almost a whisper with the theme and every time it returned it was so warm and comforting. The transitions between sections and keys were seamless. The character of this whole piece is similar to the Beethoven sonata he played where the music reflects upon the composer’s own life. The Andante had a somber spirit, especially since it moved from B-flat Major to C-sharp Minor. The insistent fourth movement came to a thundering ending, finally resolving again in B-flat Major. A vigorous and phenomenal performance, it was fitting that Schiff played Schumann’s Variations in E-flat Major for his encore. This piece was the last piece Schumann wrote and, unfortunately, is not often played.