Leif Ove Andsnes

Toccata in E minor, BWV914
Piano Sonata in E flat, Op.27/1 (Quasi una fantasia)
Kyllikki, Op.41 – No.3: Commodo
Thirteen Pieces, Op.76 – Elegiaco in C sharp minor
Five ‘Tree’ Pieces, Op.75 – No.4: The Birch
Ten Pieces, Op.24 – No.10: Barcarola
Ballade in G minor, Op.24
Préludes – Books I & II [selections – Brouillards; Le vent dans la Plaine; Les collines d’Anacapri; Des pas sur le neige; La puerta del vino; Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest; La sérénade interrompue; Canope; Ondine; Le terrasse des audiences du clair de lune]

Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 10 March, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Leif Ove Andsnes. Photograph: EMISeldom does any one piano recital range quite so far and wide, and even less frequently does one hear a single performer do such full and equal justice to all the composers represented – and Leif Ove Andsnes also played encores by Janáček (from In the Mists) and a Domenico Scarlatti Sonata played with rare purity. Like Dinu Lipatti, Andsnes marries head and heart to a remarkable degree; his fingers seemingly infallible yet governed by the most fastidious musical intelligence. If this makes him a connoisseur’s pianist, we are all beneficiaries.

Bach’s E minor Toccata, one of six such works probably written in 1710 in Weimar, falls into several continuous sections combining French (an elaborate Adagio) and Italian (vigorous fugal allegros) styles. Andsnes found both gravitas and clarity, the fugal passages fairly crackling with energy and established a formidable momentum without heaviness, the music’s line and part-writing voiced explicitly. Any debate about Bach played on a piano seemed irrelevant, so natural did this sound.

The Beethoven – the ‘other’ quasi una fantasia Sonata (i.e. not the ‘Moonlight’) – opened with unforced gentleness, Andsnes taking time before the Allegro burst in. The unhurried scherzo was notable for bucolic vigour (the scurrying trio despatched with quite exceptional precision) and there was rare poise in the deeply-felt Adagio con espressione. With exactly placed accents, the finale – essentially a kind of joyous quodlibet – had a controlled vigour, its epilogue deeply touching. (This may have been some way from Barenboim’s recent more-exploratory musings but it was superbly voiced and equally valid.)

Leif Ove Andsnes. Photograph: EMIThe evening’s Nordic heart juxtaposed four brief works by Sibelius with Grieg’s substantial Ballade. Sibelius’s piano music has received less attention than it deserves – evidently he could not bear the sound of anyone else playing the piano at his home (Ainola), so his daughters were restricted to playing it whilst father took his daily walk. They worked out a signalling system to warn each other to cease playing as soon as his white hat was spotted bobbing amongst the trees. In any event these four pieces, culminating in a more-extended Barcarola, are wholly charming, very up-market salon music and well-written for the instrument. Andsnes found just the right tone of voice, characterful and fluent but avoiding overstatement.

Grieg’s Ballade, an expansive work written in the wake of the death of both his parents, is a masterpiece and deserves to be far better known. Its Theme, quiet and elegiac, is succeeded by 14 Variations that range from the Chopinesque through the hypnotic to the vigorous – one commentary is reminiscent of the dance-like finale of the Piano Concerto – culminating in a Lisztian flourish before the Theme, now transformed, is restated. Andsnes played the work with radiant conviction, hardly surprising given that he has made a film about it for Norwegian Television, now released on an EMI DVD.

The sequence of Debussy Préludes (drawn from both Books and carefully chosen for maximum variety) had a distinctly meteorological feel, ‘Brouillards’, ‘Le vent dans la plaine’, ‘Des pas sur le neige’ and ‘Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest’ all finding a place – and strangely serendipitous given the UK on this day was subject to storms and gale-force winds and mirrored in at least two of these Préludes: simmering and terrifying. Elsewhere there was sultry Mediterranean sensuality.

Like all really great Debussy players (including Gieseking and Zimerman), Andsnes has that uncanny ability to enter deeply into the mood of each piece, touching-in passing details with the finest of brush-strokes and frequently leaving the sounds hanging in the air; one even had the aural illusion of music co-existing simultaneously, rather like a painting with an apparently simple foreground which is enriched and enlivened by subtle background details all-too-often glossed over. This was an exceptionally complete exploration of mood and colour.

Fortunately this recital was recorded by BBC Radio 3. Sadly, there was some remarkably persistent and insensitive coughing; hopefully carefully-placed microphones will have rendered these intrusions less prominent in the broadcast

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