Last weekend, Hungarian pianist András Schiff gave a concert of late piano sonatas by four composers—Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart, and Schubert—and demonstrated sensitivity and versatility in his expert performance.
The Friends of Chamber Music organization is known for bringing world-class musicians to Kansas City, and András Schiff certainly gave a world-class performance in a concert of four composers’ mature piano sonatas: Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Franz Schubert. The concept of the “late work” of any composer is an interesting one, for it offers a window into his or her musical development, especially with regard to the use of sophisticated, honed technique in combination with familiar elements of earlier styles.
Although it is difficult to find a piano recital that does not open with a Haydn sonata, Schiff played this one, Sonata No. 60 in C Major, with particular aplomb, bringing out the playfulness so characteristic of Haydn. The piece’s humor was especially showcased in the last movement, a minuet disguised as an Allegro molto, which added excitement to an otherwise predictable form with denial of listener expectations and abrupt harmonic shifts. A good foil for such a witty piece was the sonata that followed, Beethoven’s Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109, whose intensity is compounded by the brevity of the first three movements. The fourth movement, on the other hand, is truly the heart of the piece, and Schiff brought out all the contrapuntal complexity in this set of double variations. His control of the instrument was especially enjoyable as he gently shaped phrases and cohesively communicated ideas and themes.
Anyone who studied piano as a child would probably recognize Mozart’s Sonata in C Major, K. 545, if not by name then by the way it sounds. This sonata, written for young students, is often performed but rarely performed well—this concert, of course, being the exception. Any notions of it as a childish piece were quickly quelled as Schiff gave it the virtuosic treatment it deserved. Although he observed the repeats in the music, the music never felt repeated: he added ornaments, filled in passages, and made the figurations more dramatic the second time around. Nothing was adequate preparation, however, for the drama of the last piece, the monumental Sonata in C Minor, D. 958, of Schubert. While the entire work was technically and musically sound, Schiff really excelled in the last movement, described in Laurie Shulman’s very fine program notes as “a galloping tarantella,” in which Schiff’s incredibly rhythmic playing drove the movement toward an exciting conclusion.
The audience did not want the concert to end, and neither did Schiff, as he played three encores, which may have somewhat marred the programming but nevertheless gave further proof of the pianist’s sparkling virtuosity and musicianship.
The Friends of Chamber Music
Sir András Schiff, piano
Friday, March 6, 2015
1020 Central St., Kansas City, MO
For more information, visit http://www.chambermusic.org/