Norman Lebrecht’s Album of the Week – Encores after Beethoven
**** (4 of 5)
In a reflective programme note, the ex-Hungarian pianist Sir András Schiff remembers being rebuked as a young Vienna debutant for playing ‘a prematurely given encore.’ The caution, he says, was ‘golden advice.’ The encore, if given, must be timed and attuned to how audience has responded to the concert. It should be neither hasty nor frivolous, not too soon and not too much.
This album gathers together the encores that Schiff gave over the course of a Zurich cycle of the 32 Beethoven sonatas in 2004-5. The seriousness level is set high and there are no obvious crowd-pleasers. This is music to send people home with Beethoven in mind and a slightly less furrowed brow.
Schubert makes an ideal dessert; the lightest of three pieces is the B-minor Hungarian melody (D817), which Schiff plays practically in his native tongue. Mozart’s Little Gigue (KV574) and Beethoven’s playful Andante favori come naturally into reckoning, but there is real nutrition, too – two movements of a G-minor sonata by Haydn, master of sonata form, and four meditations by J S Bach, master of everything.
If you thought of encores as sweetmeats, this album redefines the genre. Each is piece is not so much a cap on the proceedings as a new line of inquiry, a way of keeping all the evening’s music in mind while continuing to explore its possible ramifications. Schiff plays the encores with humble restraint and deep introspection, never going for the easy goal. The applause is hesitant, half-muted, a little stunned.