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The Poet Speaks: András Schiff the Storyteller

available at Amazon
Schumann, Davidsbündlertänze, Symphonic Etudes, A. Schiff

available at Amazon
Schumann, Noveletten, Sonata No. 3, A. Schiff
(MP3 download)

Online scores:
Schumann, Waldszenen
Davidsbündlertänze | Kinderszenen
Symphonic Etudes
The periodic recitals by András Schiff presented by Washington Performing Arts Society have been a welcome opportunity to appreciate the Hungarian pianist's unaffected and meticulously detailed style of playing. We have long admired Schiff for his clear and articulate Mozart and Bach, and over the past several years he has been performing and recording a unique Beethoven piano sonata cycle. He came to Strathmore on Wednesday night with a program honoring the 200th anniversary of Robert Schumann's birth. In our appreciation of Schiff's intellectually rigorous side, we may have forgotten the exquisite way that he plays Schumann -- his recordings of the German composer's works are now harder, but not impossible, to acquire. This beautifully turned performance was an irrefutable reminder of it.

He opened with the lesser-played Waldszene, little forest vignettes that have a menacing, fairy-tale air to them. Here and throughout the evening, some of the most technically challenging passages sounded a little reserved or logy, but Schiff proved himself an extraordinary storyteller, a master at limning a broad range of character piece. A serene entrance song (Eintritt) led to the fragile, lonely flowers of Einsame Blumen, the enigmatic, unsettling terrors of Verrufene Stelle, and the exotic avian prophecy of Vogel als Prophet, that last one rendered with the rhythmic freedom, almost unmetered, of birdsong. Schiff's Davidsbündlertänze, which concluded the first half, was not as delicately colored as that of Mitsuko Uchida earlier this year, but it was a dynamic and vivid performance. Schiff's highly delineated voicing brought out numerous inner lines, often lost in the jumble like the countermelodies of no. 12, and giving a meandering and moonstruck quality to no. 4, a clipped gallop to no. 6, and an adventurous boldness to no. 15.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, András Schiff lifts Schumann to the sublime (Washington Post, October 22)

Mark Swed, András Schiff plays Schumann in Disney Hall (Los Angeles Times, October 14)
Schiff's performance of Kinderszenen brilliantly captured the playful sensibility of these pieces, rather than the sometimes sugary sentimentality of other performances. Throughout the evening, Schiff played with a remarkably free rubato, stretching the tempo in every conceivable direction, but without seeming grotesque or crossing the boundary into manipulation for its own sake. The music just seemed to breathe and open up into a grand space, like a painting in a frame. The only slight disappointment, perhaps, was the concluding Symphonic Etudes, where one missed the volcanic power of the breathtaking performance by Yuja Wang, who gave these pieces a truly orchestral scope earlier this year, or the steely polish of someone like Maurizio Pollini. Schiff played the 1852 version, that is, with several of the etudes dropped from the published score (Wang -- and indeed Schiff himself on disc -- have restored some of those deletions). As at his 2008 recital, where Schiff offered the entire Italian concerto as an encore, here he was equally generous, playing the entire Papillons, in a fluttery and iridescent performance.

The next piano recital presented by WPAS at Strathmore should be excellent, too, featuring Emanuel Ax (November 10, 8 pm).

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