Memorable Bach from Pianist Andras Schiff
I am always amazed when performing artists such as pianist Andras Schiff can play a long and complex collection of keyboard works such as J. S. Bach’s Well-Temepered Clavier, all in one evening, live in concert, and entirely from memory. That’s what took place at London’s Wigmore Hall this past weekend.
You can read the review by clicking here. Suffice it to say, this monumental masterpiece from Bach was presented as a musical journey from beginning to end, rather than as just a collection of separate pieces, difficult as some of the individual preludes and fugues may be. The Well-Tempered Clavier, (with both Books One and Two) is a cornerstone of western music, and for pianists, has long been called the “Old Testament” of the keyboard literature, with Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas called “The New Testament.”
Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff, who will be 60 soon, was one of the first interpreters of Bach’s solo keyboard works I listened to when I first started out as a devote of classical music back in the early 80′s. It was Canadian pianist Glenn Gould’s recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations that first got me listening to piano music, but I first heard the preludes and fugues several years later on Schiff’s very fine Decca recording and loved how it sounded and how he played them so beautifully on a modern piano.
It turns out Andras Schiff is himself a big fan of Gould’s Bach recordings but chose a less idiosyncratic approach to Bach’s music in his life-long love of these great keyboard works performed on a piano. You may be more familiar with Glenn Gould, partly due to the notoriety he gained for his idiosyncrasies, but brilliant he was for sure and left some remarkable recordings.
Andras Schiff’s Bach performances are also brilliant, but they are also more sensitive to the richness of sound that a modern piano can bring to these gem-like pieces. For Gould, the clearest possible articulation of difficult passages seems to have determined his playing technique and the engineering choices for his recordings. With Schiff, I feel more of a sense of an on-going narrative as the music unfolds in a richer palette of sounds in what were, after all, a group of 24 distinct pieces for study purposes in all of the major and minor keys.
I wish I could have been at Wigmore Hall in London for Andras Schiff’s performance of this great music. Whatever approach to Bach suits you best, if you haven’t done so, give a listen to his interpretation of music that will long outlive many interpreters to come. Above is a sample of Andras Schiff playing Bach.
And here he is with the popular Italian Concerto: