Leif Ove Andsnes is on the road, fourteen recital dates covering Bilbao to Munich, ending December 3. London was the fifth leg, Andsnes opening his chosen programme with Sibelius, not this composer’s most-celebrated corpus of work. Yet it’s attractive, with correspondence to Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky to various degrees in any one piece. Andsnes plays it with style and belief, whether the festive Birch (much delicacy, too), the melancholic Impromptu, the glittering Rondino, the perpetual motion of The Shepherd and the soulful Romance. As ever with this discriminating pianist, Andsnes neither forces nor exaggerates but it’s all there to be heard.
Jörg Widmann’s six-section 2009 Idyll and Abyss proved intriguing, if fleetingly despite Andsnes’s commitment (and whistling). Schubert’s ghostly presence is peppered by dissonance, or a musical-box fancy is disturbed, or we are in a Viennese coffee-house, or Shostakovich is on silent-film-accompanying duty. Schubert’s own D946 Pieces were given a consummate outing, the stormy First not compromising Andsnes’s shapely and candid musicianship, and he in turn didn’t denude the music’s restlessness, and how captivating was the middle section, pure poetry. The next Piece, cast in ABACA form found A as the sweetest of songs, B as darker and agitated and C as radiant. And, finally, something propulsive, with ‘distant’ contrasts, and ultimate resolution. Rather than Three Piano Pieces, this was a Sonata, oddly constructed, and searched by Andsnes for a range of possibilities.
Following the interval Andsnes reserved his most rough-hewn playing (without crudeness or histrionics) for the ‘Tempest’ Sonata, the opening (and recurring) arpeggio a statement of expressive intent, some other ethereal notes made glacial. The middle movement was rarefied if not without drumbeats in the left hand or imploring melody in the right, Andsnes then pacing perfectly the Finale, marked Allegretto, to capture fully the spinning-wheel effect and, along the way, some melting harmonies ... further expounded in the Chopin Nocturne, made rapturous, runs and embellishments integral to the whole, delving into the subconscious ... then into the Ballade, tender and dramatic, poised and emotional. It was another Ballade as an encore, the A-flat Opus 47, at full capacity, then the B-minor Impromptu, Opus 5/5, which might just have been the best Sibelius of the evening.