András Schiff at Bath Mozartfest

The pianist explores the last sonatas of four great composers

András Schiff at Bath Mozartfest
Pianist András Schiff

Last words, or at least last sonatas: this was the theme of András Schiff’s Bath Mozartfest recital. Not that any excuse was needed to bring together four pieces by Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert. And even if their lateness is arguably incidental and unquantifiable – late for Schubert means a piece written when he was 31, for Haydn when he was 62 – the idea of a composer’s final word in a genre has a certain allure. Perhaps it’s biographical poignancy. By the time of his craggy Op. 111 Sonata, Beethoven had lost his hearing, while by the transcendental D960 Sonata, Schubert knew he was on the cusp of death. Or maybe there's a sense that these pieces are the powerful distillation of a lifetime's composing wisdom.

Profound themes and questions, then, for the audience packing Bath's elegant Georgian Assembly Rooms, including the black-tie guests who had rolled in from the festival’s 25th anniversary gala reception. But this is a programme Schiff has toured over the past season, and his mastery of this Classical repertoire is second to none.

He was robust and unsentimental in Haydn’s E Flat Sonata H XVI:52, choosing spacious yet grounded tempos. This is one of the final three sonatas written while the Austrian composer was visiting London in 1794, and Schiff’s performance suggested that Haydn wasn’t just the father of the symphony and the string quartet. Beethoven in C minor mood followed: gruff and unforgiving. Schiff brought determined force to the first movement and found infinite subtleties in the second, final movement, taking us from the ground to the heavens.

In the second half, the music remained on this higher plane. Schiff brought a dewy lyricism to Mozart’s Sonata in D major, K576 (1789), paving the way for Schubert’s Sonata in B flat major. This was a towering performance of songful serenity and unsettled undercurrents, powerful in its moods but light in its touch and articulation. Hovering between the earthly and the eternal, Schiff's Schubert touched transcendence.

  • Article Type: | Blog |
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