MUSIC / A firm grip on Schubert: Adrian Jack reviews Andras Schiff's concert of Schubert piano sonatas at the Wigmore Hall

WITH HIS Wigmore Hall series surveying important strands in the chamber and solo piano repertoire, Andras Schiff is becoming a musical institution in his own right. He's currently near the end of playing 18 of what he calls the 'more or less complete' works in Schubert's rather confusing legacy of solo piano sonatas. The basis of Schiff's selection is characteristically pragmatic and reasonable; he's not playing fragments either as they remain or in completions by other people.

Each programme ends with what Schiff calls one of Schubert's six late great Sonatas, although 'late' inadequately describes the last three years of a composer who died at the age of only 31, and 'great' begs the question of whether those sonatas are altogether on a higher plane than those which immediately preceded them.

On Wednesday, though, there was a clear distinction between the mighty A major Sonata which Schubert wrote only a few weeks before he died and the two sonatas in the first half of the programme: the little-known Sonata in B major, D 459, which Schubert wrote at the age of 19, and the A minor Sonata, D 537, composed the following year. In a revealing interview in the programme book Schiff gave his opinion that the dramatic outbursts in Schubert's music are exaggerated today: ' . . . after all, we are not barbarians . . . the audience must not be assaulted', and he pointed out that Schubert's music is 'not extrovert but intense'.

If 'intense' means concentrated, then it certainly describes Schiff's approach. Control and even a measure of detachment are always paramount in what he does, so that passion is cooled off into a kind of objective grandeur. In the daunting expanse of the finale of D 960, Schiff's sober steadiness set out the music with impressive certainty, yet no one could be blamed for thinking that the slow movement was a bit economical with feeling, and certainly that the wild storm at its centre was far short of awesome.

Yet with his pointed articulation, Schiff brought a real twinkle-in-the-eye to the scherzo, and he can turn a phrase with an elegant crispness which is entirely his own. Neatness, clarity and absolute confidence in the tempi he sets form the basis of his style. A way of spreading chords and playing the left hand fractionally before the right is 'characteristic' if you like it, a mannerism if you don't.

Playing the Wigmore's new Bosendorfer, Schiff sounded as if he were using very little pedal, and there was none of the clangour which can assail the ears in this very vivid acoustic. He did occasionally have slight trouble in extracting reliable pianissimi but how vividly he orchestrated the main theme and what a good case he put for the piece as a whole - particularly for the capricious, melodious surprises in its final movement.

The earlier E major work was first published as a set of five pieces, and it's not known whether Schubert wanted them all together. Beginning the evening with this somewhat suppositional sonata, Schiff showed a fine ear for 'voicing', or balancing the strands within a fairly simple texture and he made a fair job of untangling Schubert's rather cluttered right hand part in the finals, bizarrely headed Allegro patetico. One could hardly wish for a more consistent and thoughtful advocate for this music.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before