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András Schiff Embarking on Mozart

András SchiffJeunehomme may be an unfortunate name for any young lady, but if the reward is to be associated with Mozart’s first great piano concerto – no.9 in E-flat Major K.271, which bears her name – it can’t be all that bad. It was the opening work in András Schiff’s WPAS-presented concert at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall last Saturday. The chamber orchestra Capella Andrea Barca (see comments below) that he founded and played with was created specifically for the purpose of performing all of Mozart’s piano concertos – although they have branched out into Beethoven, Haydn, and even Schumann, as of late. Much has been made of the fact that the players of the CAB were ‘handpicked by András Schiff’, but so is every member of any professional orchestra. More importantly these players are friends and good acquaintances of Mr. Schiff and each other who all enjoy spending time and making music together.

This familiarity, collegiality, the warmth and humor come out in their performances. Gentle-hearted, warm, and flowing renditions of the music they obviously love were the result. Mr. Schiff, conducting from the piano (more or less, at least) brought his light, delicate (but thankfully never ‘precious’ or “Dresden China” style), slightly understated Mozart playing to the mix. It came together marvelously: Mozart with a relaxed, broad smile rather than a jolt.

available at ArkivMusic
Mozart, Piano Concertos, A.Schiff / S.Vegh / Salzburg Mozarteum Camerata Academica
Symphony no.40 was light, sunny – all without trying too hard (or trying hard at all, for that matter). The ensemble played a little tighter here than the concertos and its attacks had more bite. The just over three dozen players produced plenty of volume if not quite the sonority of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Strathmore on the Sunday of the same week. (Of course, the latter were helped by the acoustic of Strathmore Hall, which makes comparison difficult.) In Symphony no.40 (G-minor, K.550) the bleak mood of Mozart’s at the time of composing is said to shine through from time to time. I am not sure if all listeners feel like that; to me this symphony is still the epitome of a light and joyous beauty, childhood Sunday afternoons, and mirror-conducting with knitting needles. And if tears are in place at all, they are those of helplessness before such effortless perfection. Aptly brisk in the last movement, the performances were miles away from the listless drudgery that was Louis Langree’s in New York this summer.

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, Piano to Flip Your Wig (Washington Post, October 23)
The conclusion of delights was the B-flat major concerto No.27 which was delivered with excellent delicacy of the strings in its opening, featured an independent-minded wind section, sweetness in the languid slow movement (Larghetto), and more of the impeccable, almost self-effacing playing of Mr. Schiff.

“Andrea Barca” is but the italianized version of Mr. Schiff’s name. (Schiff = boat = barca, András = Andrea). Schiff has added flourish to the group’s name by inventing the figure of Andrea Barca whom he makes out to be a forgotten Tuscan composer who once turned pages for Mozart, became a Mozart interpreter on the keyboard, and has an opera about burnt-bread soup to his name.