The concert at Koerner Hall yesterday afternoon by the 63 year-old Hungarian-born Sir András Schiff was a ‘love-in’ for both the renowned pianist and for the music of Franz Schubert that Schiff brought to the capacity audience. This was his fifth appearance at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s fabulous performance venue since it opened in 2010. There were no signs that Toronto audiences are tiring of this superb artist. This concert sold out within a day of tickets going on sale. For three hours, the singing tone of the Bösendorfer piano wafted throughout the ambient hall. Schiff gave the music of Schubert an illuminating performance. It is no wonder he has been called “the Zen master among current piano titans”.
Schiff is currently on a whirlwind tour of six North American Cities that began in Montreal with his all-Schubert program. The tour includes stops in New York, Washington and San Francisco in a span of eleven days. Nevertheless, he is not only focussed on his own performance career. As a pedagogue, he has partnered with the 92nd Street Y in New York City for a second year of Sir András Schiff Selects: Young Pianists – a three-concert series curated by Sir András, which this season has introduced rising young pianists Schaghajegh Nosrati, Julian Clef and Jean-Sélim Abdelmoula. Of course, he continues to record. His 2015 all Schubert recording on an 1820 fortepiano was named Gramophone’s and BBC Music Magazine’s “Recording of the Month”.
Yesterday’s program included two magnificent sonatas by Schubert: Piano Sonata in A Minor, Op. 42, D. 845 and Piano Sonata in G Major, D 894 ”Fantasy”. Between these two masterpieces were two sets of shorter works: Four Impromptus, Op. 142, D. 935 and Drei Klavierstückke, Op. posth., D. 946. Each of the works was written within the last three years of Schubert’s short life, an incredibly productive time despite his ill health due to either typhoid fever, mercury poisoning or as some have suggested, syphilis.
Schiff brought out all of the imaginative splendour in each of the works. He found the lyricism and drama in both sonatas. His sense of musical line created sublime phrasing. Schiff balanced the inner voices exquisitely, never letting the broken chords or repeated staccato triads overshadow the singing line. Particularly beautiful were the delicate passages in the upper registers that seemed to tip-toe over some of the most beautiful melodies ever written. He brought out all the rhythmic energy of the well-placed accents on unexpected beats and the striking ‘hemiola’ passages. There was a wonderful combination of Viennese elegance and Hungarian energy.
Schiff’s program was a homage to Schubert rather than a demonstration of his own piano athleticism. His understanding of Schubert’s music permeated the entire performance. It was no surprise that the audience stood for three curtain calls. Schiff added another Schubert impromptu (Op. 90 No.2 in E flat Major) as an encore to cap off one of the musical highlights of the concert season for this listener.
The Invesco Piano Series at Koerner Hall continues on March 28th with Russian Pianist Daniil Trifonov and on April 9th with Canadian pianist Louis Lortie.
SIR ANDRÁS SCHIFF brings his intelligent understanding of Schubert's late piano music to Toronto in a stunning program!
Pianist Sir András Schiff; Photo credit: www.kirshbaumassociates.com
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Review by David Richards
Toronto ON March 6 2017