Monday 14 April 2014

Leif Ove Andsnes provides wonderful insights as he continues his Beethoven Journey for Sony Classical with recordings of the Second and Fourth Piano Concertos

Leif Ove Andsnes  continues his Beethoven Journey for Sony Classical  with recordings of the Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat major and Piano Concerto No.4 in G major again with the excellent Mahler Chamber Orchestra

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This pianist’s first volume in this series, featuring Beethoven’s Piano Concertos 1 and 3, appeared in the Autumn of 2012. They were deeply probing, distinguished performances, ones which the more you listen to them, the more the subtle details and depth of feeling you hear.

I was keenly awaiting this second volume that was due to appear in the Autumn of 2013. Andsnes has been taking these works on tour before tacking them into the studio. However, the tour and recording were delayed due to that best of reasons, the birth of Leif Ove Andsnes’ twins.

I am glad to report that the twins are doing well and we now have volume two of Andsnes Beethoven Journey.

The Allegro con brio of Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.2 in B flat major, Op.19 opens with some lovely neat, crisp playing from the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. There is a tautness as they negotiate every corner with precision, though I couldn’t help feeling that they seem freer in their playing than in volume one. There are some lovely, crisp woodwind punctuations and, when Andsnes enters there is a lovely forward flow with so many lovely little details. Just as in his performance of the C major concerto there is a distinctively Mozartian feel. This pianist also conveys the feel of an adventure as he leads us through Beethoven’s creation. There are lovely light, delicate phrases but, for all the thoughtful touches, the music is never allowed to drag. In fact quite the opposite as Andsnes really rolls the music forward at times. The cadenza (Beethoven) is a marvel in itself with Andsnes revealing all the various layers of musical thread.

There are fine sonorities from the orchestra in the opening the Adagio and, when Andsnes enters, there is a feeling of subdued tension –with soloist and orchestra having a chamber like precision. I love the way Andsnes handles the tempo –at ease certainly but without losing forward momentum. This artist finds so many little nuances and details, with a gorgeously played coda.

The Rondo. Molto allegro dances forward full of energy, with Andsnes’ playing so fleet and buoyant, the perfect foil for the concentrated Adagio. The little conversations between piano and orchestra as the movement progresses are superb and there are some exquisite touches in the coda.

Too much has been written about the alleged extra musical ideas behind Beethoven’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No.4 in G major, Op. 58. Andsnes avoids over emphasising the drama, particularly in the middle, Andante con moto, movement. There is a perfectly judged opening for piano in the Allegro moderato to which the orchestra responds so well. The tension subtly increases in the orchestra with many little inflections before Andsnes enters again, beautifully paced, with a lovely ebb and flow. This is such thoughtful playing yet often a gently unstoppable flow. There are some exquisite slower, quieter passages and a real sense of re-discovery with nothing taken for granted. Andsnes has a superb touch, bringing out so many colours and nuances. Occasionally a sense of playfulness emerges in his playing. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra is on top form and, as Andsnes builds the drama in the piano part, they add to the emotional pull with playing of subtle tension. The cadenza is pushed along at a good pace with such fine poetic slower moments that seem so right – Beethoven at his best. Andsnes’ playing is full of fluency and, towards the coda, a feeling of freedom and spontaneity.

In the Andante con moto Andsnes draws more, taut phrasing from the orchestra to complement the more flowing piano part. Nowhere does Andsnes overdo the drama. This is no Orpheus taming the beasts but something far more subtle, with an occasional sense of darkness.

There is a chamber like tautness to the Rondo. Vivace with Andsnes then hurtling ahead with some terrific playing. Both pianist and orchestra follow every little shading and tempo change. At times there is a great rhythmic pull with some terrific dynamics from the orchestra. Again it is the sense of new discovery draws the listener. Andsnes takes a taut, steady lead up to the coda that, nevertheless, is not lacking in fire and drama.

This is a really distinctive fourth with so many aspects of Beethoven’s genius revealed for us to hear.

Andsnes’ approach, that of living with these works and taking them into concert before recording them appears to be paying huge dividends, with this pianist giving us wonderful insights into these ever fascinating works.

This cycle is set to be a top contender with the first two volumes deserving a place on every music lover’s shelf. With excellent recording and informative notes, including a short note from the soloist, this new release is hugely recommendable.

I look forward to the final instalment of this concerto cycle with great anticipation and, of course, send good wishes to his new family members.

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