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Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycle - Andras Schiff
Wigmore Hall, 24 May 2006

Sonata No 27 in E minor Op 90
Sonata No 28 in A Op 101
Sonata No 29 in B flat Op 106, Hammerklavier

29th November 2006 , 8.30 p.m.

Sonatas Nos 30, 31 & 32 (Op.109-111)

Andras Schiff played his specially prepared Steinway/Fabbrini piano for these recitals, and it sounded good.


The May event at the penultimate stage of Andras Schiff's chronological survey of Beethoven's 32 sonatas was seriously demanding (and intended so) for player and audience alike. Schiff had insisted on giving the whole sequence without interval, and virtually without pause, performing for one and a half hours straight through; it must have been bad business for the bar?


There had been a warning announcement before Schiff started that this was the moment for the needy to quickly avail themselves of the toilet facilities! Surprisingly - and in our view inappropriately - he rounded it off with a Bach Prelude and Fugue from the 48. All very pretentious and a little alienating for some of the tolerant audience who might have come for a music night out with friends, rather than a devotional occasion?


They were good, carefullly studied and memorised performances, but strangely unmoving.

These Wigmore Hall recitals are fully subscribed and I do not plan to review the final one (I recall failing to enjoy a recital of those last three given by Brendel in Devon some years ago; after Op 109, one wanted something different for a three course meal !).

Perhaps we will enjoy the late sonatas better in the integrale of the sonatas which ECM is releasing disc by disc. We greatly enjoyed Vol 2 (Op 10 nos 1-3 & Op 13 (Pathetique) [ECM New Series 592202], but naturally didn't play them straight through at a sitting...

Peter Grahame Woolf




°Far more successful, and entirely engrossing, was Aleksander Madzar, who began a memorable mixed programme with the Diabelli Variations (clever ordering) and then allowed us a coffee break before Ravel and Haydn!

°c.f. Classical Source re Schiff at Wigmore Hall: "Not quite great performances – though greatly preferable to many more workaday versions of these masterpieces."


Andras Schiff Beethoven Piano Sonatas cycle

Wigmore Hall 29th November 2006 , 8.30 p.m.


Sonatas Nos 30-32 (Op109-111)


If you like the last sonatas to sound like the late quartets, this recital was for you. They were not about Beethoven's tortured spirit or his ranting against the iniquities of the world; they were about the resolution of his thought inside his own mind, a resolution incomprehensible to his contemporaries, now seen as one of the highest points music has ever reached. Schiff's interpretations were extremely meticulous in preparation, extremely detailed, extremely intellectual.


A tremendous achievement to complete his Beethoven cycle thus, twice in one evening - with no signs at all of fatigue; Schiff played with remarkable cleanness and perfect memory.


He had chosen the Steinway/Fabrini piano* he has often used at the Wigmore. Schiff knows these pieces inside out and on this, the fourteenth occasion he had given this programme, he received a well-deserved standing ovation.


For me, these pieces are not as inaccessible as in Schiff's view they are; they are closer cousins to the other sonatas than to the quartets or to the Missa Solemnis (mentioned in Schiff's notes).


Schiff is the absolute doyen of this repertoire (and of the influences upon it) amongst living pianists; this sometimes meant he was trying to cram too much detail into the interpretations. The playing occasionally became over-complicated, losing naturalness and not letting the music speak for itself.


This was particularly apparent in the start of Op 110, where the accompaniment was unbelievably prominent compared to the melody, or in the unevenness of the fugue subject presentations in the sonata's finale. One textual crux where I absolutely agree with Schiff, however: at the end of that finale, the notation doubles (semiquavers to demi-semis) and most pianists rush ahead. But the tempo is marked ‘meno allegro' because Beethoven intended to make the transition to the coda smooth. Schiff quotes Charles Rosen to support him, Brendel as his antagonist.


There was no doubt as to the most successful performance, Op 111. Schiff made light of the first movement technical challenge, and saved his most spiritually compelling playing for the variations. This was great playing; a marvellous recital, just one notch short of transcendental.

Ying CHang



  * - - With his own specially commissioned Steinway/Fabbrini for Bach, Scarlatti and Mozart, Schiff made us think - - PGW