Exacting pianist tackles Mozart at the Megaron

Andras Schiff, one of the most gifted pianists of recent years, returns to the Athens Concert Hall, or Megaron Mousikis, for two performances fronting the chamber orchestra Cappella Andre Barca tonight and tomorrow night. The repertoire, identical on both nights and entirely dedicated to Mozart, will feature the composer’s Symphony No. 41 and Piano Concertos No. 17 and 27. Opting to steer clear of the limelight, this renowned Hungarian pianist won’t be caught parading on glossy magazine covers. He avoids interviews and limits performances to concert halls. Schiff’s reserved nature as a public figure is counterbalanced by an intense approach to both researching and playing which has injected freshness into compositions widely thought to have been stretched to their limits. The pianist is well aware that perfection alone does not suffice. He is remarkably gifted at offering appropriate treatment to a composition’s finer nuances, which is why Schiff’s playing can be belligerent, aggressive, reluctant or decidedly assertive. The musician’s exploration of composition and playing techniques has also prompted a deep interest in sound. Although he does not perform songs using period instruments, Schiff takes great care when choosing the type of piano he feels is best suited for each occasion. Depending on the circumstances, he may prefer the cleaner and more aggressive sound of a Steinway, or the softer textures offered by a Bösendorfer. Such systematic delicacy in approach requires both experience and time, which helps explain this pianist’s disinterest in trying to play everything of note in the repertoire. Highlighting his reluctance to diversify, Schiff avoided working with Beethoven’s mature sonatas for piano. The pianist had felt dissatisfied by previous attempts and opted to wait until he felt he had become a more seasoned musician. «I don’t know any other composer who possesses so many dimensions – heroic, metaphysical, lyrical, tender – and, of course, such a sense of humor,» Schiff recently remarked. «I always felt very comfortable with Beethoven’s early works but, as for his latter sonatas, I felt a great level of respect – I still do – and also considered myself to be too young, too immature and inexperienced…» he added. When he reached 40, Schiff began to add about three of these sonatas to his repertoire each year. Over the past two years he has been preoccupied with Beethoven’s work, and, over the coming four years, intends to perform the composer’s 32 sonatas. Some have already been recorded as live performances at concerts in Zurich. Judging by the results so far – the prestigious German label ECM has just released four Beethoven sonatas by Schiff – this cycle’s development should be fascinating. «I like live recordings, despite all the dangers and risks,» Schiff said. «In the case of certain composers, risk is a blessing. Beethoven is one of these.»

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