Beethoven Piano Concertos Andras Schiff / Philharmonia Royal Festival Hall, London
Monday 09 October 1995
The Third Concerto opened to a finely structured orchestral tutti - a little clipped perhaps, but never overstated. Here Schiff passed on the frills and toughened his act for some fairly gritty dialogue, although the cadenza again witnessed wildly quivering jowls and a certain degree of rhetorical overkill. The Largo inspired numerous pretty observations but although the Rondo was nicely inflected, the actual coda could have been even crisper, more witty. However, by now I was beginning to tire at what seemed more a superficial striving for the effect than inward conviction; I longed for something simpler, stronger, more direct and less reliant on the powder and paint of pianistic cosmetics. Schiff held lovingly to the first chord of the Fourth Concerto, a telling augury of what lay in store - a sight-seers survey, guiding us every note of the way with jabbing left-hand emphases, numerous instances of exquisite tonal sculpture but too much interpretative waffle. Even Sanderling's gruff opening to the Andante con motto - swift, scalding and unceremonious though it was - seemed something of a failed admonition: Schiff's entrance was minutely, maddeningly delayed, a coquettish ploy going proxy for humbling prayer. The finale was more elegant than exuberant but very much "of a piece" with what we'd heard all evening: tasteful playing to the gallery (Schiff would occasionally gesture towards the stalls, his eyes closed) and pianistic mastery par excellence but a far cry from the torment and ultimate triumph that underpin the Third and Fourth Concertos in particular. It was simply too civilised.
n Andras Schiff plays Beethoven's First and Fifth Piano Concertos, RFH (0171-928 8800) on 11 Oct
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