Wednesday 17 January 2018

Review: Bach in the limelight at Kilkenny

Classical: Sir András Schiff, St Canice's, Kilkenny

'Sovereign artist': Sir András Schiff
'Sovereign artist': Sir András Schiff

Pat O'Kelly

Coming directly from Salzburg, Budapest-born and London-domiciled pianist Sir András Schiff devotes his substantial Kilkenny programme to the last sonatas of Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert.

This may seem odd, as the 42nd Kilkenny Arts Festival is promoting Bach in various guises but a connection lies in these composers' indebtedness to the earlier master.

Introducing Schiff as a "sovereign artist", festival director Eugene Downes's words are not misplaced, as this recital is one of insight and integrity.

The evening begins with Haydn's final E flat Sonata where the composer reaches forward to Beethoven and beyond. Schiff's crisp playing has bouncing staccato, yet flowing legato. The Adagio is solemnly stark but the giddy Finale offers glistening clarity.

Beethoven's two-movement C minor Op 111 is also innovatory even if his fugal writing displays its Bachian ancestry. On the composer's divergent paths, Schiff is both gruff and refined and in Beethoven's variation Finale demonic and seraphic touches are defiantly wild and passively cultivated.

If Beethoven begins with a call to arms, Mozart's D major K 576 Sonata prefers a hunting tantivy. The Bach connection is in contrapuntal discourse, which Schiff interprets with utmost elegance. Mozart's angst in his Adagio is sympathetically extended.

The long first movement of Schubert's B flat envoi Sonata is magisterially unfolded. Dramatic yet delicate, Schiff's reading is grandly expressive. The Andante becomes a rolling barcarolle; the Scherzo a dignified dance with Schiff giving the Finale unhindered development.

András Schiff dedicates his recital to the fondly remembered John and Doreen Ruddock, who promoted his first recital here over 40 years ago.

Irish Independent

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