Leif Ove Andsnes – A Portrait (EMI)

0 of 5 stars

Intermezzo, Op.117/2
Piano Concerto in A minor
Lyric Pieces – Opp.43/1 & 6, Op 65/6
Piano Concerto in D
Piano Sonata in B minor [Hoboken 32; movements 2 and 3]
Sonata 1.X.1905 (From the Street)
Pictures from Nordland – Suite No.1, Op.5/Nos.2-4
Mephisto Waltz No.1
Humoreske-bagateller, Op.11
Etude-tableau in C, Op.33/2
Tunes and Dances from Siljustol, Op.22/5
Fantasie, Op.17 [final movement]
Concerto for piano, trumpet and strings, Op.35
Folk Tunes from Hardanger, Op.150/Nos. 3, 27 & 37

Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)

Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Dmitri Kitaienko (Grieg concerto)

Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (Haydn concerto)

Hakan Hardenberger (trumpet)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paavo Jarvi (Shostakovich)

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: December 2001
CD No: EMI CZS 5 74789 2 (2 CDs)

Is Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes too reticent and detached a performer? Does he, indeed, conform to a Scandinavian stereotype – lucid, rational, objective, but lacking that last degree of passion? Or is this coolness original in itself, an understated modern take, both on hackneyed warhorses too easily flogged by over-exposure, and on neglected Scandinavian repertoire?

These CDs are well filled and the programming is good. There are plenty of complete pieces including the Grieg and First Shostakovich concertos – and Haydn, a composer usually selected-from at the expense of others. There are relatively few ’bleeding chunks’ and a mix of live (Shostakovich) and studio performances; there are unknown Norwegian miniatures and Central European classics – this is excellently representative.

One reads of Andsnes’s technical fluency and profundity of interpretation. Of the first there is no question; he is equal to any challenge in the repertoire. Of the second, I am not so sure. What I detect in him above all is a consistency that combines intelligent analysis and a repudiation of the inessential; Andsnes has no need of affectation or fuss in his playing. I do, however, feel he achieves originality by stripping away what is superfluous, rather than through an absolute certainty of personal vision. He makes space for the music itself more often than he compels the listener to accept a personal reading. As his recent Barbican recital exemplified (reviewed here), sometimes his playing is less immediately striking than the thinking behind it. There is though a remarkable consistency. Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, recorded over ten years ago, sounds little different from its appearance at that recital – the same transparency, the same balance of fleet fingers and folksy dancing.

This consistency of approach yields different results in different repertoire. Allowing music to speak for itself unveils miraculous poetry – witness the melting second subject of Grieg’s concerto first movement, or the endlessly unfolded melodic line of the Schumann (sadly, a movement in isolation). It’s easy to see how Andsnes has won an award for his Haydn. Such thought-out music benefits from Andsnes’s unforced, no-nonsense playing. The Scandinavian miniatures are brilliantly laid out in the jeweller’s cabinet. At other times, in Liszt, or in the Slavonic repertoire, this analytical reserve comes over as too monochrome, too cold – one longs for Latin warmth, not only the midnight sun.

Overall, I admire Andsnes’s playing more than I love it; I am impressed more than moved.

As for the presentation of the CDs, there are no notes on the music at all, but plenty of arty portrait photographs, depicting Andsnes as an enigmatic, brooding Romantic poet – a contrast with his appearance at the Barbican when he impersonated a Danish Lutheran pastor.

Pianists have long careers with opportunities to revise and deepen their interpretative views. Andsnes is only thirty years old; it is a tribute to the renown he has already achieved that his relative youth comes as a shock. Andsnes is certainly a pianist of the first rank, which makes his future recordings and concerts all the more interesting.

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