Pianist, Andras Schiff delivered an uneven performance at San Francisco’s Davies Hall yesterday afternoon.
Those who expected the pianist to play his signature Bach program were pleasantly surprised by Schiff’s insertions of self-imposed Baroque style ornaments in Mozart’s “Drawing Room” Sonata, K. 545.(in particular) As whimsical as it might have seemed, the “improvisation” was out of character with the era and the composer.
(Perhaps audiences might have liked something “different” as Glenn Gould often chanted.)
While I hadn’t managed to snatch the Allegro which was by far the movement most subjected to shifty Schiff’s impish escapades, he still gave his audience a tweaked version of the finale, Rondo: Allegretto, inserting an elaborate cadenza in the space of a modest rest.
In the middle Andante movement, Schiff chose a rather brisk tempo that didn’t encompass a mournful shift to the pathos-filled g minor section.
Yet, Schiff’s offerings that included the works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert were satisfying, despite his waffling approach.
Tonally, he lightened up to the point of losing a visceral connection to the piano. It was often powderpuff, skimming-the-surface playing, alternated with a sudden intensity that never quite took hold for the length needed.
The Beethoven Sonata in E Major, Op. 109 was a case in point. While it had an appealing, expressively played opening, Schiff failed to communicate the composer’s extremes in temperament/dynamics. Instead, he took a reserved and risk-free route. To my surprise, a sudden, well-sought character transformation occurred in Schubert’s powerful C minor Sonata that brought the period and composer into clearer focus.
Schiff’s Schubert’s Impromptu in Eb, Op. 90, (an encore) was spun out gracefully, though with an inner voice emphasis that at times, was more contrapuntal than Romantic. In one set of measures, the pianist created a syncopated accent that I found jarring, wondering why he had chosen that particular bass note nuance. Yet in the fabric of the whole performance, he mesmerized an audience that cheered him from opening measure to final cadence.