Review: A Pianist’s Seamless Flow, Nothing Short of Astounding

Review: A Pianist’s Seamless Flow, Nothing Short of Astounding

Of the two evenings of varied repertory that the pianist Andras Schiff presented at Carnegie Hall this week, the first, on Tuesday, was mightily impressive; the second, on Thursday, was nothing short of astounding.

Both were cut from the same fabric, each representing a cross-section of Mr. Schiff’s typical fare but centering on a relatively new preoccupation: the late piano works of Brahms, aphorisms seemingly packed with late-night thoughts, mellow or melancholy, haunted or serene.

On Tuesday Mr. Schiff surrounded the pieces of Brahms’s Opuses 76 and 116 with works by Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Bach of a similarly reflective cast. Closely considered key relationships led from one composer to another.

On Thursday, he went a considerable step further, actually connecting one utterance to the next. He played the first half of the program — Schumann’s Variations on an Original Theme, Brahms’s Three Intermezzos (Op. 117), Mozart’s Rondo in A minor (K. 511) and Brahms’s six “Klavierstücke” (Op. 118) — in a seamless hourlong flow. Prior harmonies seemed to hang in the air, coloring new ones.

Highlights of Andras Schiff

It was an amazing feat of physical stamina and mental concentration for the 64-year-old Mr. Schiff, and it demanded some of the same from listeners, who were caught unawares. The program book gave no hint of this bold stroke; nor did Mr. Schiff, who has an impish streak and likes to surprise, say anything from the stage.

Most listeners seemed as enthralled as I was by what amounted to a tour of Mr. Schiff’s capacious yet crowded mind, which houses all of Bach’s keyboard music and much by many others. For him, individual works must jostle up against one another like this all the time.

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