When Andras Schiff, 64, gives a recital at the Wigmore, he comes over all patrician in a three-piece suit complete with Edwardian gold watch-chain, and with a faltering voice which seems to come from far away in time. For this last in his series of Bach-and-Bartok programmes he began with a curiosity – Bach’s Capriccio on the Departure of his Most Beloved Brother – and followed it with Bartok’s Bulgarian Dances and Piano Sonata, interspersed with Bach’s Four Duetti from Clavier-Ubung Book III. Well, that was what the programme said, but he warned us (with sadistic pleasure) that he’d shuffled the cards differently, and said it really shouldn’t matter whether we knew what he was playing at any given moment, as we’d realise how close they were in musical thinking, if not in time.
The Capriccio had charm, the Dances came smart as a whip, the Sonata was a feast of furious virtuosity, the rarely-performed Duetti emerged with aggressively experimental boldness, then came the second half with Janacek’s In the mists and Schumann’s Fantasie in C Op 17, both the latter bearing Schiff’s stamp in forcefully didactic mode.
On the following night we got that for real, as Schiff gave a masterclass for two young pianists, Jean-Selim Abdelmoula and Julia Hamos. Abdelmoula played the Janacek with rather more empathy than Schiff had done, and Hamos delivered a warmly seductive account of the Schumann. Now Schiff was more relaxed and human, laying bare the mechanics of these two great works so that the young players – and we – could savour their beauties in analytical close-up.Reuse content