Sir András Schiff, a longtime favorite of CAMA’s Masterseries, returned to the Lobero on April 12 with an exemplary program demonstrating his distinctive style and thoughtful approach to the classical piano repertoire. While there was nothing unorthodox about the choice of the four composers on the bill — Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Brahms, and Bach — the works involved were anything but predictable. Mendelssohn’s Fantasy in F-sharp Minor, Op. 28 evades both the sonata designation (barely) and many of the expectations created by Mendelssohn’s music, especially those regarding tempos and dynamics. It made a perfect opening, setting the stage for Schiff’s crystalline realization of Beethoven’s rarely heard Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 78.
Despite the uniform excellence of all five pieces, for this listener the highlights came immediately before and after the intermission, when Schiff played a total of 15 Capriccios and Intermezzos by Johannes Brahms. These short pieces, the product of Brahms’s later years, ordinarily occupy short slots on longer programs or serve as encores. Played together, and in sequence, the compositions of 8 Klavierstücke, Op. 76 and 7 Fantasien, Op. 116 resonate more deeply and inform one another in myriad intricate ways that were made for the kind of rigorous yet soulful treatment that only a player of Schiff’s experience and authority can bring to them as a group. The three Intermezzos, two in E major and one in E minor, that came as numbers four through six in the 7 Fantasien, ran particularly deep and mystical.
Following that, a thoroughly satisfying encounter with Bach’s English Suite No. 6 in D Minor, BWV 811 left no doubt that Schiff can play anything in the repertoire, no matter how distant, on his Bösendorfer 280VC concert grand and make it convincing, even transcendent.