There was something deeply human and rejuvenating in watching two men in the Prospero phases of their careers expressing in the most magical and grand terms music by Beethoven – not written in the Prospero phase of his. The Fourth Piano Concerto was one of those performances where the performers are invested to such a degree in a vision of the music that they can indulge their own pleasures which reside mostly in absenting themselves from interpretive decisions except to let the music unfold at a leisurely pace appropriate at a time where suddenly consolation is paramount. Everything András Schiff touched turned into beauties that often seemed unexpected as if he himself were hearing them in some profoundly new sense for the first time. He unpacked every trill with wonder.

Daniel Barenboim conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin
© Monika Rittershaus

His first movement cadenza was a thing of fleeting thoughts and impulses and yet as the cadenza wore on Schiff sternly asserted control with a sweetness that made the rendezvous with the orchestra all the more meaningful, Schiff's velvety bright Bösendorfer taking precedence over the self-effacing winds and rich solid strings before keeping the pedal down after the last chord, like at the end of the Triple Concerto.

Daniel Barenboim's gruff Staatskapelle Berlin introduction led to a true Andante con moto which made the final argument leading into the pianist's downward spiral all the more poignant, not deconstructed notes but a pleading human voice. Schiff did something wonderful again with trills on the main theme of the reasonably lively Vivace, closer to a turn. The clarity of the interplay between Schiff and the orchestra at the moderate pace allowed the various sequences to have special personal consequences, with Schiff's evanescent pearl-like runs perfectly appropriate to those interludes of lyrical beauty between the forces of energy and exultation. After triumphantly negotiating the hazards of the cadenza, Schiff was greeted by especially sweet-toned pairs of clarinets and bassoons before the surge of power at the end.

Sir András Schiff
© Nadia F Romanini | ECM Records

Barenboim's Eroica was methodical in its insistence on structural points, less interested in endearments and sentiment along the way, hammering away at the first movement's main theme in the cellos and basses like he was forging a Leitmotif. An unusual sense of dread was punctuated by a shattering timpani roll. The setup may have been ponderous at times, and couldn't help but be predictable, but the payoff as everything came together was overwhelming. This was not Beethoven the radical. This was Beethoven supremely in command of a great modern orchestra which had been understandably respectful of Schiff in the Concerto, and was let loose in the Symphony. The horns in the Trio were for heraldry more than hunting.

After the performance an unmasked Barenboim bumped elbows with the leader and several other unmasked Staatskapelle members. On a somber Berlin stage they had created moments of consoling beauty.

This performance was reviewed from the rbb Kultur video stream