Schiff displays equal skill conducting

March 21, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

The pianist Andras Schiff occasionally likes to visit the podium to conduct chamber orchestra works for which he has great affection. That was the case last night in Meyerhoff Hall when Schiff led the Baltimore Symphony in a program of works by J. S. Bach.

A talented bunch of professional musicians such as those on stage last night do not need an experienced conductor in works such as the Cantata No. 82 ("Ich habe genug") and the Orchestral Suite No. 1. What they need is a musician who can inspire them -- which is exactly what Schiff did.

The Hungarian-born musician led the orchestra in a tender performance of the cantata. There was sensitive and powerful solo singing from the Swiss baritone, Oliver Widmer, and a lovely oboe obbligato from Joseph Turner.

The orchestral playing was straightforward, stylish and spontaneous, and demonstrated -- as Schiff's performances on the modern piano have for nearly two decades -- that one does not need 'authentic' instruments for per- formances of 18th-century music that have a genuinely baroque sound.

Much the same could be said of the performance of the Orchestral Suite No. 1. Schiff has never been one of those baroque specialists who favored abrasive performances. He took the introduction at a relatively slow pace that allowed for a good deal of grandeur. And while the fast movements were well-sprung, strong and elegant, he always allowed for expressive breadth.

Schiff may not be a "real" conductor, but this listener wished that many conductors -- including some with international reputations could draw such lovely and unforced string playing from the orchestras they conduct.

Part of the program took place without the orchestra, with Schiff, this time at the piano, and Widmer performing selections from the composer's "Anna Magdalena Notebook." In several arias and in an early version of the Cantata No. 82, Widmer sang beautifully and Schiff demonstrated why he is one of the world's finest accompanists.

Schiff is, of course, one of the world's great pianists (and not just in the music of Bach). His performances of the composer's Concertos Nos. 1 in D Minor and 5 in F Minor were near-miraculous demonstrations of his ability to control color and articulation. It will be a while before anyone in last night's audience will forget Schiff's exhilarating performance of the monumental D Minor Concerto.

Pub Date: 3/21/97

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