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Ionarts-at-Large: Heinrich Schiff Between Boredom and Beguiling

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L.v.B., Sys. 2 & 3,
H.Schiff / Bremen Ch.Phil.
Berlin Classics
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L.v.B., Sys.4 & 7,
P.Järvi/ Bremen Ch.Phil.
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W.A.M./ L.v.B. [sic!], Clarinet Concertos,
Collins / Pletnev / Russian NO
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W. Lutosławski, Musique Funebre et al.,
Lutosławski / Polish NRSO
EMI Matrix
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Lutosławski, Mozart, Beethoven: Andreas Schablas (clarinet), Bavarian State Orchestra, Heinrich Schiff (conductor), National Theater, Munich 17/18.05.2010 (jfl)

Lutosławski: Musique funèbre à la mémoire de Béla Bartók
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in A, KV 622
Beethoven: Symphony No.7

As, eventually, owners look like their dogs, Heinrich Schiff has morphed into the shape of a stout cello. He also has the unique ability of making any suit jacket look like a cardigan—so last seen in the Sixth Academy Concert of the Bavarian State Opera, earlier this May.

Witold Lutosławski’s Funeral Music (in Memory of Béla Bartók) is dry stuff and there was little either Schiff (in conducting mode) or the Bavarian State Orchestra could do to make it appear otherwise. Written for the 10th anniversary of Bartók’s death (but not finished until 1958), it skates heavily, densely, repetitively, until the Apogeum-third movement offers a lyrical bright light. Calm, interrupted by intermittent thuds, the Epilog ends with a twelve-tone row on one cello, just as it began.

If ‘dry’ be a euphemism for boring, let’s call the following Mozart clarinet concerto performance (KV 622) outright dull: Andreas Schablas, first clarinetist of the orchestra and member of the Austrian Ensemble for New Music (OENM—where he has apparently impressed with interpretations of Poppe and Rihm) was the soloist. What struck as perfectly amiable at first, revealed itself in time as lacking beauty of tone and phrasing and teetering too close to boredom. An achingly sincere slow movement notwithstanding, this was a skilled, schooled, and stiff run-of-the-mill performance.

Had I given in to temptation and left at intermission, the impression of the concert would have been terribly wrong: In the Seventh Symphony of Beethoven, Schiff let it all hang out. Not subtle, but then we don’t go to concerts for ‘subtle’ but—ideally—for entertainment. The first movement still sounded more like the attempt at an exclamation mark, rather than the real thing. But from those forced, incidental (rather than essential) exclamation marks, the symphony worked up energy via a too-quick-to-be-funereal Allegretto (beautifully executed double bass and cello lines!) to a steadily more appealing romp cumulating in excited excellence.

Photo of Heinrich Schiff © Andrea Felvégi

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