I doubt there can ever have been a better-structured piano recital than that enjoyed by a packed and attentive Town Hall audience on Tuesday.
Andras Schiff is a pianist of immense intellect and self-effacing modesty. His first response as applause began at the end of every offering was to stand quietly acknowledging the piano (such an eloquent Steinway) before turning to the public; it allowed the music a few extra moments in the ether.
And what music he chose. This was a programme of variations: Mozart’s in B-flat K. 500, subtle and perfectly placed; Mendelssohn’s Bachian Variations Serieuses, clearly defined; Haydn’s magnificent F minor Variations, well-detailed with their proto-Romantic colourings; and Schumann’s tormented Ghost Variations written as the composer teetered on the edge of another world.
Crowning the evening were Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, a compendium of piano styles and techniques, and a summing-up of all that the composer had achieved during a lifetime of composition where he had raised the piano from a mere salon instrument into a vehicle for the loftiest of thoughts.
Schiff, his virtuosity never obtrusive, was undoubtedly the man for the job, and the result was breathtakingly authoritative. The encore was huge: Beethoven’s entire Op.109 Sonata – quite a bonus.
Rating * * * * *