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S & H Concert Review

Mozart, Mendelssohn, Haydn; Philharmonia Orchestra, András Schiff (pf/con); RFH, 9th December, 2003 (AR)

 

 

András Schiff has a great affinity with Otto Klemperer, as tonight’s concert clearly demonstrated. In the programme notes Schiff stated: "Otto Kemperer’s recordings with the Philharmonia Orchestra of masterpieces by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and others have been a revelation and an inspiration to me since my teens. Today I admire him even more. His humanity, razor-sharp intellect, sense of rhythm, and grasp of form and structure are always in the service of the composer and of the work."

Regarding the sense of rhythm and grasp of form, the same could be said of Schiff himself, whose interpretations of the Mozart and Haydn works could have been based upon Klemperer templates.

Indeed, the tempi in Mozart’s Symphony Number 33 in B flat Major were very reminiscent of Klemperer’s studio recording made with the same orchestra.

Throughout Schiff had the demeanour of an eighteenth century musician, assuming a Mozartian persona, his baton-free conducting full of sprightly elegance. The Allegro assai had a lilting grace, with the divided strings bringing out refined detail, helped by the four double basses being placed directly behind the woodwinds. Sadly, what was lacking was clearly focused woodwind (a feature always more prominent in Klemperer’s performances). The otherwise pristine string playing in both the Andante and the Menuetto was a shade too lightweight. The woodwind suddenly came into focus in the concluding Allegro assai which Schiff conducted with delicate precision combined with panache.

The highlight of the evening was Mendelssohn’s much underrated Piano Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op. 25. Not ‘lightweight’, as is often claimed, but a dramatic and inventive score, it can be considered superior to the composer’s more familiar E Minor Violin Concerto.

Schiff had the piano facing into the orchestra, conducting from the keyboard and occasionally standing to coax the Philharmonia to some ecstatic playing. Schiff’s own playing showed both flair and vigour, and a suave elegance. Schiff’s poetic playing of the Andante recalled Schumann’s piano pieces with their mellow introspection. The Presto was played with a fleet lightness with Schiff elegantly throwing the notes into the air, playing with a nimble delicacy of touch I have seldom heard before. Notable throughout were the wonderfully played trumpet fanfares and the exemplary timpani playing of Andrew Smith.

The opening of Haydn’s Symphony No.102 was cool, dignified, reserved and perfectly measured, never dragging. Here the strings had the appropriate grainy toughness reminiscent of Klemperer’s reading. Again, as with the Mozart, the woodwinds were sadly far too recessed and unfocused, making little impact.

The F-minor Adagio – surely one of Haydn’s most moving slow movements – had a melancholic reserve with Schiff bringing out the dramatic dissonances, enticing stern and brooding playing, notably from the pointed trumpet and timpani interjections. The Minuet had the appropriate lumpen ruggedness, Haydn’s approach to the minuet being a more bucolic measure, rather than the stately court dance usually associated with the word ‘minuet’. Schiff conducted with a rhythmic tautness and swagger. Here the oboe, bassoon and flute were perfectly balanced and well focused complementing the weighty body of strings.

The exuberant Presto came through with comic élan. Schiff’s interpretation was again close to Klemperer’s in its sense of structure and form coupling dissonance and drama.

Throughout the evening the Philharmonia appeared delighted and inspired by their pianist/conductor, and applauded him, as did the audience, with great appreciation and respect.

This concert was part of the Living Memorial To Arthur Rubinstein concert series, marking the 20th anniversary of his death

Alex Russell

 


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