Review: Sir András Schiff

A sublime performance with unexplored horizons

international review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Sir Andras Schiff
Photo by Yukata Suzuki
Published 13 Aug 2023

"You've certainly had your money's worth!" jokes pianist András Schiff as he nears nearly an extra hour of this surprise billing. He's right: it's nearly three hours of the most sublime playing. The programme is unknown at the start, and he introduces it from the stage, providing succinct and thoughtful commentary on everything from the amusing post horn figure in Bach's Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother, to the unconventionality of the original pedal markings in Beethoven's Tempest Sonata. It's all delivered with an accessible twinkle and a real sense that he loves this repertoire.

Schiff's playing is fine throughout. He extracts a clear, unfussy tone from the Steinway, and rings out melodies or emphasises contrast with an uncanny elegance. His rendition of Bach's Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor puts the touch into toccata with passages of such extraordinary clarity. No finger is left on a note any longer than necessary. I love the precision of the dotted semiquavers in Haydn's Variations in F minor, and the beautiful refinement that accompanies the flurry of trills in the second major variation, like perfectly parallel rays of light through cloud.

In a sense, this is a masterpiece of programming, too, drawing links between the recitativo in both Bach and Beethoven, for instance. There's a catch, though: Schiff's surprise programme means the audience arrives with an open mind, ready to be transported anywhere by a masterful musical communicator. But he takes us only as far as Bach, Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart. Haydn is "the most underrated of the great composers" only when viewed through a particularly narrow keyhole. This surprise programme feels like a missed opportunity to broaden horizons and imaginations – and, indeed, to surprise.

Sir Andras Schiff played at The Queens Hall, 11 Aug