A night of nostalgia and farewell




Sir Andras Schiff (piano)

Conservatory Concert Hall

Last Friday

Just a year ago, Sir Andras Schiff's all-Bach recital, which included the celebrated Goldberg Variations, left a lasting impression on his audience. This year, the 2018/2019 Ong Teng Cheong Visiting Professor of Music at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory followed up with a sumptuous programme themed around nostalgia, recollections and farewells.

The concert began with a fascinating 10-minute introduction of the works he chose to pair with the Three Intermezzi Op. 117, Six Pieces Op. 118 and Four Pieces Op. 119 by Brahms. Schiff also requested that given the quiet, reflective nature of the works, applause should be held until after the conclusion of each half.

This reviewer had doubts that the legions of eager piano fans present could contain themselves between the works, but they did so most impressively, lending the concert a wonderful sense of reverence to the music.

Schiff's musical odyssey began with the Variations On An Original Theme In E-flat Major (Ghost Variations). It is Robert Schumann's last work, written in a time of great inner turmoil, while he battled for his sanity, and was only completed after he jumped into an icy river and was rescued. Schiff played this with great serenity and nostalgia, every note sounding as if it carried a lifetime of memories.

The variations were followed immediately by the Three Intermezzi (short works) Op. 117 by Brahms, each performed with a tinge of melancholy and lament.

All evening, Schiff played with great insight, an amazing clarity of lines and superb timing. There was nothing contrived or over-analysed - every note spoke naturally. At times it seemed as if his fingers were not actually touching the keys, yet the music simply flowed from the wonderfully tuned grand piano.

The second half opened with a cerebral reading of Bach's Prelude and Fugue No. 24 In B Minor, one that sounded almost indulgent at times, but well matched to the mood of the concert.

Brahms' lifelong musical confidant and friend Clara Schumann, by then widow of Robert Schumann, was never far from his thoughts when he composed his final piano works. Brahms wrote to Clara that the first of the Four Intermezzi Op. 119 should be played "as if one wanted to suck melancholy out of each and every (note)". Indeed this was how it sounded in performance.

The programme came full cycle to close with Sonata No. 26, Les Adieux by Beethoven. Through the evening, Schiff's measured tempos could have given the impression that he was somewhat introspective and nostalgic in his interpretations. But he was just being faithful to what the music dictated. In the fast section of the first movement and the joyful final movement Das Wiedersehen (The Return) of the sonata, his playing took on renewed urgency and brought the programme to an exuberant close.

With the ecstatic audience now able to fully express their appreciation, Schiff obliged with five encores. This was a fond farewell and clearly Singapore music lovers cannot wait for his return.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2018, with the headline 'A night of nostalgia and farewell'. Print Edition | Subscribe