Arts: Classical: This view is just too cool

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The Independent Culture
THE AMOUNT of work Andras Schiff gets through is staggering. When so much of London's concert life is organised in series, Schiff is a very useful pianist indeed. Series are good for the marketing people - they can count on attracting critics to at least one of several concerts. Series can also fill gaps in our knowledge. But they may also edge out the inspired or unusual one-off programme and, worse still, they encourage a streamlined, generalised approach to performance.

These thoughts were prompted by the first of Schiff's three recitals in the Wigmore Hall's Schumann series, which takes in song recitals as well as piano music. The more I hear Schiff, the more I hear his personality interposing itself between the music and the listener. Not exactly that he distorts what he plays, not that he is any less than scrupulous in interpreting what composers wrote, but he has an unmistakable manner of standing back a little from the music and presenting it in a rather courtly fashion, as if to say, "My lords, ladies and gentlemen..."

On Thursday, it must be admitted, Schiff seemed to find the newer of the Wigmore's two Steinways a rather unresponsive beast, which needed more than usual wheedling and prodding. The rippling figuration of the "Arabeske" refused to melt and remained hard and stony. And while Schiff jumped many of the hurdles in the 18 "Davidsbundlertanze" more neatly than most pianists, he often balanced the left hand, or inner parts, too lightly, starving harmonies of their full sonority.

His soft playing in the lovely "Blumenstuck" was sometimes indistinct, too - not something you need often complain about in this hall. Yet he did the third etude in the Etudes symphoniques very nicely, with the tenor melody in the left hand glowing against whispering arpeggios in the right.

In the rest of the work there wasn't much of Schumann's impulsive passion, however, and the second and fourth variations were rather cautious, while surely the frustrated virtuoso in Schumann should have been released in the penultimate variation.

Altogether, a rather cool, detached view of one of the warmest, most subjective composers. Schiff may at least get a more sympathetic piano for his next Schumann recital at the Wigmore on 4 March.

Adrian Jack