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András Schiff on Mendelssohn

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Jessica Duchen Jessica Duchen | 17:03 UK time, Monday, 30 March 2009

andras_schiff.jpgAndrás Schiff's recording of the Mendelssohn Songs Without Words has long held one of several prides of place on my Felix shelf. It's a gorgeous CD, limpid, poetic and mercurial, and I love it to pieces.

Recently I did a substantial interview with András, which has just been published in International Piano Magazine. Here's what he has to say about Mendelssohn.

'Five years ago the Wigmore Hall asked if I'd like to do a festival to mark the 200th anniversary of Haydn's death, so this will be at the end of May, with five concerts. We will also do Haydn with the Philharmonia and an all-Mendelssohn concert in June.

'Haydn and Mendelssohn need championing, to different degrees; both are underrated, and I think Haydn is one of the greatest composers ever. Especially in the German-speaking world they have not realised that he had a much better time in England during his lifetime! If some of that can be rethought and reevaluated, it could be a good thing. And Mendelssohn - again his successes were in this country. But now one has to do a lot of persuading.

'I adore Mendelssohn, but so often people say: "Oh, Mendelssohn, a little composer..." How can you say that? Mendelssohn was a colossal composer! I think his talent can only be compared to Mozart's as a teenager. Think of the Octet, or the Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream - I don't think Mozart wrote such great music when he was 16. Later came his fantastic achievements in choral music and chamber music. His string quartets opp. 12 and 13 are wonderful; and the last quartet in F minor is a towering masterpiece. And the piano trios! He was a musician with perfect knowledge and perfect taste, the only one in that generation who had Bachian counterpoint in his fingertips. The others had to fight for it - Schubert, Schumann, even Brahms had trouble with fugues and counterpoint. He was responsible for the Bach renaissance, the rediscovery of the St Matthew Passion, the first performance of Schubert's Great C major Symphony - he was the first really great conductor and a towering public figure, so of course he did not have all his time for composing. Even so, what's wrong with the Mendelssohn violin concerto? It's out of this world - a perfect masterpiece. Tomorrow I'm playing the Variations Serieuses, which I only learned last year. It's fantastic. I hope that after a year of celebrations the world will think differently about Mendelssohn.'

Read the rest in the March/April edition of International Piano - more details here.


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