I found “András Schiff Plays and Conducts Mozart” to be a
special DVD in more than one sense. Here, this noted pianist
conducted and played the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(1756-1791). First of all, I’d never seen him on the podium;
second, I also had a unique opportunity to watch him conduct
from the keyboard. The setting for this May 2008 concert was
the beautiful Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, a city in northern Italy.
I’ll get back to that later.

Schiff opened the program with Mozart’s “Symphony No. 35
in D Major,” also know as the “Haffner.” He’s a fine conductor,
and led a performance typified by extreme clarity and musicality.
I’ve played this piece as a bassist, and can attest to the
difficulty of the last movement, which Schiff took at a good clip!
He got a good response from the Cappella Andrea Barca,
a relatively small orchestra. While natural trumpets were used,
the rest of the winds appeared to be using modern instruments,
which made it something of a “hybrid” ensemble.

Next, Schiff conducted the overture to “Don Giovanni,” and
almost immediately followed that with Mozart’s “Piano Concerto
No. 20 in D Minor, K466.” Schiff’s decision to theatrically link
these two works was brilliant. In the cadenza to the final
movement, he incorporated themes from the opera overture.
This programming choice was interesting and inspiring! As always,
his piano playing was among the most natural and purely musical
that I’ve heard. In fact, I cannot recall another pianist who seems
so “at one” with his instrument. The lid had been removed from
the piano, thereby allowing Schiff to have better communication
with the orchestra, and his back was to the audience. As an
encore, Schiff played Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Chromatic Fantasy
and Fugue in D Minor,” thereby providing yet another harmonic
link with the previous music. I’ve seen Schiff superbly play Bach
before, and this performance was no exception. The camera
work and recorded sound were first rate, and the overall
presentation and performances therein were topnotch.

As a 15-minute bonus feature, Schiff not only discussed the
music at hand, but also the unique venue. The Teatro
Olimpico, Vicenza was completed in 1585, five years after
the death of its architect, Andrea Palladio. This theatre is
still the oldest surviving, self-enclosed structure anywhere.
Schiff referred to its wonderful acoustics and dramatic design
layout, and it’s wonderful that this concert was captured
on film for the rest of us to see.