In Artur Schnabel, Saturday night's audience at the Town Hall heard one of the greatest pianists who has ever come to Australia. All musical Syd- ney seemed to have turned out to do him honour. The hall was densely crowded, and after each of the four sections of his programme Mr. Schnabel received an ovation.
It was a great tribute to a master musician —and all the greater because Schnabel is uncompromising in his standards. Compare the scene on Saturday with what happens when other famous players give recitals here. As a rule, the continuity of the programme is broken up by comparatively trivial encore pieces, and the end of the concert sees the audience clapping on and on secure in the knowledge that this activity will bring forth old favourites like "La Campanella" and "The Girl With the Flaxen Hair."
Schnabel, on the other hand, gave no en-
cores at all. He presented two Beethoven sonatas, a sonata of Mozart, and four im- promptus by Schubert. Such was the level of the evening's music. Schnabel delves profoundly into the thought of the various
composers, and he carries his hearers with him. Even his most delighted listeners on Saturday must have been exhausted at the end of his concert. To have demanded encores would have been the height of
Mr. Schnabel disciplined his audience, also, in another manner. He has a short way with coughers. There are always people with colds who bark unreservedly in the midst of even the most inspiring concert. When the first cough rang out, Schna- bel gave a fleeting glance at the offender. Another man coughed, fortissimo. In the midst of Beethoven's Opus 110, Schnabel turned and shook his head in mild reproof.
That was the last cough that was heard during the music. In the pauses between each Schubert impromptu and the following one. storms of barking broke the silence. The outbursts were almost ludicrous in their in- tensity. But Schnabel had stillness for his playing.
SEVERE APPROACH TO CLASSICS.
Schnabel's whole style is based on relaxa-
tion. He began the Beethoven Opus 110— and what a work it was to open a programme —leaning almost casually against the back of his chair. Even when he was making the instrument declaim with colossal sonority, he scarcely seemed to be exerting himself. His facial expression remained abstracted and meditative, as though all this manual dex- terity were being directed by a remote, sub- conscious function, of the mind.
Schnabel, then, has a severe approach to the classics. That does not mean that his interpretations were dry and angular. If one says that he stripped Beethoven, Schu- bert, and Mozart of all extraneous ornament and presented the composers' thought in its most elemental form, that remark is perfectly true but it must not be misunderstood. For, if getting down to the fundamentals of great sonatas were a question of metronomic exact- ness, the finest interpreter of them would be an electric player-piano. Individual phrasing, speed, and colour are essential.
The real accomplishment of great men like Huberman and Schnabel is that they mani- fest the music broadly and simply, and grandly, instead of subjecting it to a super- ficial dramatisation. What a contrast on Saturday night between Schnabel's reading of the last movement of the "Waldstein" and the average idea of it! The music usually gives an impression of whirring and rushing, be- cause it is played too fast. Schnabel re- instated Beethoven's marking, "Allegretto moderato," and he punctiliously observed the direction, "always pianissimo," except where obvious exigencies demanded. He had approached the sonata with a completely fresh and searching mind. The result was that the "Waldstein" emerged in a new light. That last movement, especially, lost the routine weariness which has gathered about it during long years of repetition.
So it was with the Schubert. There is nothing technically transcendent about the Impromptus of Opus 142. The Andante in A Flat is within the reach of the rawest amateur. Yet, by presenting the notes in their ultimate simplicity, Schnabel made this music sound precious and strangely distin- guished.
The Impromptu in B Flat, with the five variations, brought forth some individual pass- ages of extraordinary beauty. The rippling delicacy of the scales in Variation No. 5 was not like anything any other visiting pianist has presented. For, while Schnabel always concentrates on the total design, rather than on detailed embellishments; when those em- bellishments are necessary for his larger pur- poses, he has them at his command.
The F Minor Impromptu (Allegro Scher zando) was remarkable for the apt contours with which the pianist had modelled the lead- ing theme. It was one more instance of the melodic radiance, the exquisite balance of dynamics, which gives Schnabel's playing such unfailing nobility.
The Mozart Sonata was the one in A Minor, K.310. This was a full-throated Mozart, curiously filled with inner warmth, even while it meticulously adhered to the formal element of structure. Concerning Beethoven's Opus 110, there is nothing to be said. Like the "Waldstein," this sonata sounded triumphantly new-created.