Proms 2011: Beautiful Bartók courtesy of András Schiff and the Hallé
Nick Shave on an emotional evening at the Royal Albert Hall
I once recommended a friend and his wife take in a Mozart violin concerto at the Musikverein in Vienna. Neither were concertgoers, both more into pop group, The Maccabees, than Mozart, but they were visiting Austria on a business trip at the time.
When afterwards I asked whether they had enjoyed the experience, the friend laughed and confided with a look of surprise: ‘When the orchestra started playing we both just started uncontrollably blubbing. We were sat in the audience with tears rolling down our faces. It was ridiculous.’
I only tell you this because I almost suffered a similar reaction whilst watching András Schiff perform the Bartók Piano Concerto No. 3 at the Royal Albert on Thursday. It was a performance that was so beautifully played, so exquisitely delivered, I felt a strange and overwhelming sense of relief; nowhere more so than in in the central slow movement where the soloist’s harmonies, with their chorale-like simplicity, were phrased with such intensity that well – I’ll admit, and it’s a little embarrassing – I actually began to well up.
Some of the credit for its lump-in-the-back-of-the-throat moments must go to Bartók himself. Conceived in three movements, his work – the last he completed before his death in 1945 – is a combination of percussive play, which Schiff seemed to pluck with delight from the piano, and almost religious, melancholic reflection in the nocturnal slow movement. (And credit, too, must go to the work pressures of the day, after which a rendition of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik on Chinese nose flute might have provided welcome relief.)
But I make no excuses: in the end, it’s Schiff and the Hallé, who brought out the clarity and colour in Bartók’s score, who deserve the medal for this moving and authoritative performance, finely balanced by conductor Sir Mark Elder. If it doesn’t go down as one of THE performances at the Proms this year then we have a truly remarkable – and emotional – season ahead.
Nick Shave writes for The Guardian and is Contributing Editor of BBC Music Magazine. A regular reviewer and blogger of the Proms, he can usually be found at the Royal Albert Hall with only seconds to spare, breaking into an ungainly powerwalk somewhere between the ticket collection desk and the stalls