Sonata 1.X.1905 ‘From the Street’
Piano Sonata in C-minor, Op.13 (Pathétique)
Poetic Tone Pictures, Op.85
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 31 January, 2023
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
In his first Carnegie Hall recital since 2015, Leif Ove Andsnes offered a thoughtful and sensitive program. The four pieces in the first half – centering on the themes of death and state-oppression – were played straight through without distinct breaks. The opener, Lamento, by Alexander Vustin, who died in 2020 of Covid-19 complications and isrelatively unknown outside his native Russia, set an eloquently elegiac mood. Inspired by a bird the composer heard singing at the funeral of a friend, it sets a soaring and silvery birdsong melody in the right hand above a steady, dirge-like motif in the left. Andsnes delivered a poignant rendition of the short, hauntingly beautiful work. Then he segued into the hushed and somber opening of Janáček’s concise, two-part Sonata, composed as a memorial to a young Czech worker who was fatally stabbed by an Austrian soldier during a 1905 political protest. Andsnes delicately balanced the mournful anguish and turbulent harmonies of the first movement and brought peaceful eloquence and a sense of quiet resignation to the more somber Finale before seamlessly shifting a century ahead into a quietly dignified rendition of Valentin Silvestrov’s serenely nostalgic 2005 Bagatelle I. The Ukrainian composer’s brief but deceptively exacting composition served as an intriguing prelude to a clear and direct rendering of Beethoven’s ‘Pathetique’ Sonata. Emphasizing the pathos in the Grave opening, Andsnes more than adequately linked the 200-year-old work to the preceding selections before unleashing the fiery passion of the first Allegro. After a radiant rendition of the ethereal Adagio cantabile, he infused the Finale with seething tension.
The second half was devoted to the Carnegie Hall debut of Dvořák’s Poetic Tone Pictures, a major work, but – with its thirteen distinct parts, unpianistic passages, and occasional longueurs totaling over fifty minutes – the elaborate cycle, an impression of Czech life, is a rarity. Andsnes’s interpretively varied performance was delivered with intelligence and commitment. However, despite their descriptive titles, the miniatures do not depict specific locales or situations; they are programmatic only in the sense that are intended to evoke specific moods. Andsnes masterfully handled the complex articulations, bringing out the many tonal contrasts in ‘Twilight Way’, the boisterous rowdiness of ‘Toying’, the solemn dignity of ‘In the Old Castle’, the rollicking folk rhythms in ‘Peasant Ballad’, the riotous revelry of ‘Bacchanalia’, the noble solemnity in ‘At a Hero’s Grave’ and other varying moods. His radiant performance made a compelling argument for the rediscovery of Dvořák’s colorful and imaginative score.
Two encores: a dramatic rendering of Norwegian composer Harald Saeverud’s Ballad of Revolt, written during World War II as a protest against the German occupation of his homeland; then, on a lighter note, a finely articulated account of Chopin’s Mazurka in C-sharp minor, Op.30/4.