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S & H Recital Review

Bach, Mozart, Scarlatti,Chopin Andras Schiff (piano) Wigmore Hall,13 December (PGW)

Bach, J S

Prelude and Fugue in A minor BWV894

Mozart

Rondo in A minor K511 Menuett K576/b Gigue K574

Scarlatti, D

Sonatas in C Kk420 C Kk421 / L252 E minor Kk394 / L275 G minor Kk426 / L12 E Kk395 / L65 G Kk427 / L286

Chopin

Ballade nos 1 in G minor op 23/2 in F major/A minor op 38; Nocturnes in E flat op 9 no 2 / F op 15 no 1; Scherzo no 1 in B minor op 20/no 2 in B flat minor op 31

Andras Schiff's reputation ensured a full house, with standing, for two presentations of his second Chopin and his Idols programme on successive evenings. Its prime critical importance lay in the two pianos played, which brought an audience, most of whom were probably uninvolved in the 'authentic instrument' controversies, face to face with thinking about possible alternatives to the ubiquitous Steinway. As Schiff put it, with gentle good humour, we have been brainwashed into taking for granted that pianos should always be black and made by Steinway. Excellent though those are, they are not ideal for all music and he deplores the covering up of natural wood colours. "The Wigmore Hall used to be called the Bechstein Hall - when did we last hear a Bechstein, Bosendorfer or Ibach here?"

It was indeed a Steinway, though a very unusual one, which Schiff played on for the classical half of his programme. With the name Fabbrini painted boldly on the side, it had a dry, bright quality which suited well the Mozart pieces and especially his sparkling Scarlatti selection - isn't it amazing how well Scarlatti's sonatas sound whether on harpsichord or on piano, and interpreted very variously by numerous pianists from Horowitz to Perahia (my own favourite a double CD by Pletnev, probably n.l.a.) - an inexhaustible mine of imagination and invention. For Chopin, Andras Schiff changed to a beautiful, rich brown Pleyel of 1860, which had been restored and prepared by the same Fabbrini - unfortunately, Schiff did not, in his all too brief talk, go into detail about either instrument, beyond saying that he hadn't been playing Chopin for many years, had felt the usual Steinways were 'not ideal' and that this Erard/Fabbrini instrument had 'opened new worlds' for him. I had small reservations in the large works, in which he was, perhaps, still feeling his way and we with him, but none for the nocturne and waltzes which he played as encores; no question that the unusual sounds and balance between registers made you listen with a particular intentness. Schiff's next pair of recitals will be on 10 & 11 January, with a different programme (the same one each evening) of music by the same composers - I anticipate another sell-out and it is all credit to Andras Schiff that he remains loyal to the relatively small Wigmore Hall, ideal for the sound qualities he seeks to share.

Peter Grahame Woolf


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