This New York Philharmonic concert led by András Schiff had a distinctly Middle-European flavor, including two works with direct connections to Schiff’s native Hungary – the Haydn, composed during his years at the Esterházy court, and Bartók’s Divertimento, the composer’s vocabulary derived from that nation’s folk-music.
In Haydn 80 we hear remnants of his earlier works in the Symphony genre, including sudden mood-changes and extended pauses, and also a style that would soon ripen into the great ‘Paris’ and ‘London’ Symphonies (respectively 82-87 and 93-104). In the Allegro spiritoso, Schiff nicely contrasted dramatic strings with a Ländler-like tune. Then the first-violins sweetly intoned the charming opening theme of the Adagio and the Minuet was given a rather grandiose aspect, although the Trio was kept delicate. The Finale was a romp, with its odd, syncopated theme recurring in various guises, keeping us guessing as to which would be the last.
Divertimento was written in 1939 to a commission from Paul Sacher just before Bartók left war-torn Europe for the safety of America. Schiff steered the Philharmonic’s strings through this fascinating piece. The outer movements feature dance rhythms and surround a dark Molto adagio, with its tragic mood then dissipated by the folk-theme-based Finale that is itself interspersed with a fugato section and a gypsy-influenced violin solo (excellently played by Frank Huang).
In BWV1055, Bach’s reworking of a Concerto for oboe d’amore, for all that Schiff contributed much it was weighed down by the use of a relatively large string ensemble needed to counterbalance the piano. The highlight was the brisk tempo and Schiff’s joyous approach to the Finale, and he went on to give an excellent reading of Schumann’s Piano Concerto, a happy recollection for this writer of hearing it (played by Guiomar Novaes) at my very first New York Philharmonic concert sixty years ago. The piece calls for smooth integration between piano and orchestra, which was well-achieved here. There were many fine orchestral solos, from oboist Liang Wang and, on an instrument heard for the first time this evening, an amorous clarinet contribution from Pascual Martínez-Forteza. Schiff played with technical excellence and subtlety, and he brought propulsive energy to the first-movement cadenza and coda. During the ‘Intermezzo’ the cellos beautifully intoned the second subject, and the numerous aspects of the Finale were all delightfully performed.