Andras Schiff returned to Sydney after an absence of two decades to wow Sydney audiences in the Musica Viva Gala Piano Recital.

The return of András Schiff to Australian stages after a long absence was much anticipated. And the Gala Piano Recital in Sydney was well worth the wait. His intelligent and refined pianism was the ideal vehicle for sharing profound and for the most part late period expressions from Schumann, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart and Bach.

This programme was studded with sets of small-scale compositions from the final five years of Brahms’ life. This enabled us to experience his Opus 117, 118 and 119 in the same evening’s listening.

The colour, contrast and full bodied delicacy required and respectfully delivered by Schiff here would have alone been an inspiring event for the audience. However, this interestingly structured event gave us glimpses into the maturing minds of a quartet of other great composers also.

The concert began with an entertaining verbal introduction from Schiff. He explained the intimate nature of the works, the structuring of music in this programme and his request to hold applause until the end of each half.

Without regular applause the concert’s music flowed in uninterrupted juxtaposition, strengthening both the contrasts and links between the works. Extended piano soundscapes and interpretative finesse resulted, giving us a novel and rewarding event experience.

Beethoven and Bach have often featured in Andras Schiff’s many recordings and huge history of concert performance. It was an extra thrill to hear Bach and Beethoven works included around the solid and diverse thread of Brahms works for us to enjoy live in concert. As with the Brahms works, there was no indulgent overplaying here but instead subtle, control and careful construction of layers of nuance were the exciting order of the day.

The inclusion of these Bach and Beethoven works allowed Schiff to showcase his fine colour and articulation choices when creating a specific pianistic tone for early music. The Bach Prelude and Fugue in B minor from the first book of The Well Tempered Clavier unfolded with its texture treated with beautiful contouring of line and Bach playing well placed on the modern piano in a new voice
for the evening.

Beethoven’s late period Sonata No 26, Op 81a ‘Les Adieux’ was a work which complemented the thread of intensity provided by the Brahms sets. Fine musical sharing from Schiff graced Beethoven’s concise and innovative gesture and form in this bold late work.  Schiff’s colourful and intimate offering here enhanced the emotion of the programmatic agenda around leaving a patron and being in political exile. Full-textured bravura moments were effective due to being well-spaced and carefully graded in the tonal landscape.

More intimate emotional performance occurred in the inclusion of Mozart’s Rondo in A minor K511 in the concert’s first half. Again this legendary pianist’s delicate, deliberate and unique treatment for eighteenth century sound on the modern instrument and for this serious comment by Mozart late in this composer’s life made this well-known work something of a highlight in an impressive

To begin the programme Schiff provided a clear communication of the shifting characters within Schumann’s Theme and Variations in E flat major WoO24 ‘Ghost Variations’ prior to the first set of
late Brahms pieces. Schumann in Schiff’s hands was presented with flexibility but benefitted from the pianist’s signature clarity and control. The intensity was pleasingly accessible to the audience and sheer beauty of tone was always present.

Following significant ovations at the end of this Musica Viva Gala Concert, no less than 4 encores were offered. These included pieces by Bartok, Schubert and from Bach’s Goldberg variations to further wow the fans and round off an exciting night of piano performance.