In Concert - Robert Schumann

András Schiff

An entrancing live performance by András Schiff, playing compositions of Robert Schumann, recorded at the Tonhalle, Zürich, in 1999. The key to Schiff’s engagement with Schumann lies first and foremost in an astonishing empathy with the composer and the music. This is a point that the New York Times has also taken up: “Mr Schiff has an uncanny way of making a composer his own. Or is it making himself one with the composer?” Schiff harnesses his immense technique and artistry to reveal the poetry and profundity of the compositions. And yet while the pianist faithfully conveys the musical intimacy and lyricism particular to Schumann, he does not shrink from the composer’s more turbulent emotions. In all, a most valuable document of a night when, as Martin Meyer writes, “the magic materialised, gripping both the artist and his audience.”

Featured Artists Recorded

May 1999, Tonhalle Zürich

Original Release Date


  • CD 1
  • 1Humoreske op. 20
    (Robert Schumann)
  • Noveletten op. 21
    (Robert Schumann)
  • 2I. Markiert und kräftig05:05
  • 3II. Äußerst rasch und mit Bravour06:14
  • 4III. Leicht und mit Humor04:29
  • 5IV. Ballmässig. Sehr munter03:57
  • CD 2
  • 1V. Rauschend und festlich09:58
  • 2VI. Sehr lebhaft mit vielem Humor04:07
  • 3VII. Äusserst rasch03:32
  • 4VIII. Sehr lebhaft10:44
  • Klaviersonate f-Moll op. 14
    (Robert Schumann)
  • 5I. Allegro brillante (Fassung 1836)06:52
  • 6II. Scherzo. Molto comodo06:29
  • 7III. Quasi variazioni. Andantino de Clara Wieck06:29
  • 8IV. Prestissimo possible07:18
  • Nachtstücke op. 23
    (Robert Schumann)
  • 9IV. Ad libitum - Einfach04:14
BBC Music Magazine, Pick of the month
The prospect of three of Schumann's less popular large-scale works on one recital is tantamount to dining on three thick, meaty, and utterly delicious porterhouse entrées at a single bound. András Schiff programs the Humoreske first, the Sonata No. 3 last, and places the eight Op. 21 Noveletten in the middle, with an intermission halfway. That's a lot of music to digest in one gulp, yet Schiff's penetrating musicianship, firm yet flexible sense of architecture, and diversified pianistic portfolio of colours, articulations, voicings, and pedalings command your undivided attention. ... The reflective Op. 23 No. 4 Nachtstücke serves not so much as an encore as a benediction to this beautifully engineered and thoughtfully annotated release. No Schumann lover nor András Schiff fan should miss it.
Jed Distler, Classicstoday
Pianist András Schiff has made a specialty of the music of Schumann for years, and his readings continue to get richer and more incisive. This dazzling two-disc live set establishes Schiff as a leading interpreter of this music. What's remarkable about Schiff's playing is his mastery of touch and texture, the way he carves out sculptures in sound that are at once delicate and sharply defined. Just as in his performances of Bach on the modern piano, Schiff gives Schumann's music a crystalline textural clarity that still allows for a range of highly expressive moods and tonal colours.
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle
András Schiff ist bei den Pianisten von heute sicherlich jener, der sich am entschlossensten von Einseitigkeit fern hält. Er liebt das Vielschichtige, und das mit allem gebotenen, ja gelegentlich fanatischen Ernst. Es konnte nur eine Frage der Zeit sein, bis er zu Robert Schumann fand. Am 30. Mai 1999 gab er in der Zürcher Tonhalle ein denkwürdiges Rezital, das jetzt als Live-Dokument auf zwei CDs vorliegt. Was man vom Ungarn erwarten durfte: Er sucht sein Schumann-Bild gerade in den Verästelungen des Sperrigen. Also etwa in den teils verqueren Novelletten oder in jener f-Moll-Sonate, die der Komponist als "Concert sans Orchestre" bezeichnete. Hier fesselt Schiff zumal das Ineinander und Gegeneinander von Innenwelt und Aussenwelt; interpretatorisch von Introvertiertem und Extravertiertem, von Grüblerischem und Überschwenglichem. Ein Künstler, der das Unerhörte zutage fördern möchte.
Mario Gerteis, Die Weltwoche
Few pianists could have made this programme work: an entire recital of Schumann pieces that are sometimes considered poor relations of Kreisleriana and the F sharp minor Sonata. They may not be Schumann's finest, but they have their own glories and Schiff, recorded live in the Tonhalle, Zürich, in May 1999, treats them with the affection, empathy and respect they deserve. The Humoreske, a peculiarly episodic creation, is notoriously difficult to bring off convincingly. ... Schiff concentrates ... on the rhapsodic poetry and élan that unify the torrent of different ideas: the result holds together perfectly, rather like a song cycle. There is a delight in the lyrical atmospheres from the first note, while the lively passages positively fly along, Schiff's light touch and delicate pedalling filling busy textures with airiness, freedom and clarity. ... His Novelletten unfold with a narrative sense of direction and the F minor Sonata is full of impetuous, Schumannesque passion mingled with inward soulsearching and outstanding songfulness in his highly distinctive sound. There's an additional bonus in the fourth Nachtstück, a touchingly reflective, valedictory encore. All this is amplified by the sense of occasion, atmosphere and adrenalin that you experience at the best recitals. It's quite an achievement to capture that on disc, along with a little applause and remarkably few coughs, and the sound quality is exceptionally fine. An absolute winner.
Jessica Duchen, BBC Music Magazine
Am 30. Mai 1999 spielte András Schiff in der Züricher Tonhalle ein Schumann-Recital, dessen aufregende Unmittelbarkeit von den ECM-Technikern in bewundernswerter Präsenz eingefangen wurde. Anders als Kollege Pollini, dessen neue Schumann-Einspielung ein Hauptwerk, die Kreisleriana, zwischen das frühe Allegro op. 8 und die späten "Gesänge der Frühe" op. 133 stellt, Stücke also, die in der Schumann-Literatur zumeist geringer eingeschätzt werden, präsentiert Schiff drei Großwerke aus der "goldenen" Schaffenszeit des Komponisten, die Humoreske op. 20, deren Titel eher irreführend ist, die acht Noveletten op. 21 und die relativ selten zu hörende Sonate f-Moll op. 14, ein Programm, dem er als Zugabe noch das vierte der Nachtstücke op. 23 folgen läßt. Die Unmittelbarkeit der Live-Wiedergabe erfährt ihre erregende Zuspitzung durch Schiffs "ungarisches" Temperament, das allerdings jederzeit durch ein Maximum an dynamischer und agogischer Flexibilität, an klanglicher Transparenz gesteuert wird. Die Sorgfalt, mit der Schiff Schumanns kontrapunktisches Gewebe ausbalanciert, Nebenstimmen durchzeichnet, sie von den Hauptstimmen distinkt abhebt, läßt auch an Stellen rauschhafter pianistischer Bravour nicht nach. Nichts erscheint an diesem Schumann-Spiel beiläufig, der Reichtum der verschiedenen Ausdruckscharaktere und 'kontraste etwa in den Noveletten wird plastisch ausgeformt. ... Die Leidenschaftlichkeit dieser Klaviermusik aus den Jahren des Kampfes um Clara überfällt den Hörer geradezu. Gemessen an Pollinis bei aller Meisterschaft kühlerer, gelegentlich auch etwas manirierter Schumann-Sicht, wirkt dieser Mitschnitt eines pianistisch-musikalischen Ereignisses in jeder Phase erregend. Schumann, der überströmende Erzromantiker pur.
Alfred Beaujean, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
An entrancing live performance by András Schiff, playing compositions of Robert Schumann, recorded at the Tonhalle, Zürich, in 1999. The key to Schiff's engagement with Schumann - as Martin Meyer observes in the booklet notes - lies first and foremost in an astonishing empathy with the composer and the music. This is a point that the New York Times has also taken up: "Mr Schiff has an uncanny way of making a composer his own. Or is it making himself one with the composer'"

"One must leave every note just as Schumann wrote it, " András Schiff told German arts magazine Ibykus. "One must experiment properly and find a balance, an equilibrium." He added, "I know of no work by Schumann that is not wonderful - so inspiring. With all due respect to Brahms, for me Schumann is the more ingenious composer. With Schumann there is this burning inventiveness, this simply unbelievable inspiration..."

Schiff imparts the nature of that inspiration by ceding to the expressiveness of the music itself, and by imposing nothing, harnessing instead his immense technique and artistry to reveal the poetry and profundity of the work, as well as Schumann's "polyphonic" thinking, and the "conversational" attributes characteristic of much of the writing. A recital programme Schiff had been developing over several seasons, on the way toward this very special Zürich concert, was entitled "Schumann, the Poet", and while the pianist faithfully conveys the musical intimacy and lyricism particular to Schumann, he does not shrink from the composer's more turbulent emotions:

"Schiff's public performances of Bach's Preludes and Fugues, Partitas and Suites had already revealed more than beautifully moulded detail and a keen polyphonic sense," notes Martin Meyer. "Where necessary, Schiff was perfectly capable of passion and urgency; of powerful, vigorous, unfaltering action; of resolutely placing dynamic and rhythmic climaxes. In his exploration of Schumann, this gift has attained even broader proportions. The composer of richly metaphorical associations, alchemist of the most intimate conversation, was also a man of enormous, consuming passion."

Feelings may be at their most complex in the Sonata in F Minor, written largely in the summer of 1836, when the 26-year-old Schumann was separated from Clara Wieck: "More comprehensively and generously here than elsewhere, Schumann is intent on capturing wide-ranging passions, invocations of love and its fears, and by the same token, conflicts - which are thoroughly amenable to musical representation." Vladimir Horowitz once described the Sonata in F Minor as one of the towering masterpieces of Romantic music, and declared himself "flabbergasted" by its relative neglect; it asks a lot of a performer. Originally conceived as a "Concerto without Orchestra", the first version of the work, published in 1836, presents the sonata without the Scherzo, which was added for the 1853 edition. András Schiff decided upon a combination of the two, playing the 1853 version with the first movement from the earlier edition.

"Humoreske" and the eight "Noveletten", compositions heard more frequently from interpreters of Schumann, date from 1838, and are also given deeply-felt performances by Schiff. At all times the pianist seems to express the essence of the composer's intentions, through all his fluctuating moods. "Variations, but not on a theme" was Schumann's summary of the capricious nature of the "Humoreske"; it is a study in contrasts of temperament.

Some words of Roland Barthes' may be apposite here: "Schumann's piano music, which is difficult, does not give rise to the image of virtuosity; we can play it neither according to the old delirium nor according to the new style (which I should readily compare to the "nouvelle cuisine" - undercooked.) This piano music is intimate (which does not mean gentle), or again, private, even individual, refractory to 'professional' approach, since to play Schumann implies a technical innocence very few artists can attain." This is surely the question of balance and equilibrium that András Schiff alludes to, when he says that Schumann's notes must be "left alone", that his music must speak for itself.

But, Meyer reminds us, "even an interpreter with an infallible memory and masterful shaping powers needs that moment of grace: the euphoria - half-familiar, half longed-for - that envelops the circumscribed universe of the concert hall. And [in Zürich] the magic materialised, gripping both the artist and his audience."

2024 July 23 Église de Verbier station Verbier, Switzerland
2024 July 25 Église de Verbier station Verbier, Switzerland
2024 July 27 Menuhin Festival- Kirche Saanen Gstaad, Switzerland
2024 August 02 Kirche St. Jakob Klosters, Switzerland
2024 August 06 Bibliothekssaal Ochsenhausen, Germany
2024 August 11 Kloster Chorin, Germany
2024 August 15 Salzburger Festspiele Stiftung Mozarteum Salzburg, Austria
2024 August 17 Salzburger Festspiele Stiftung Mozarteum Salzburg, Austria
2024 August 22 Tellenhaus Ernen, Switzerland
2024 August 23 Kirche St. Georg Ernen, Switzerland
2024 August 24 Kirche St. Georg Ernen, Switzerland
2024 August 25 Kirche St. Georg Ernen, Switzerland
2024 August 28 Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Netherlands
2024 August 30 KKL Luzern, Switzerland
2024 August 31 Stresa Festival Hall Stresa, Italy
2024 September 01 Teatro Galli Rimini, Italy
2024 September 05 Chamber Music Hall Tsinandali, Georgia
2024 September 08 Amphitheater Tsinandali, Georgia
2024 September 12 Royal Albert Hall London, United Kingdom
2024 September 25 Hotel Waldhaus Sils, Switzerland
2024 September 28 Casals Forum Kronberg, Germany
2024 September 29 Casals Forum Kronberg, Germany