Friday 17 October 2014

Performances ranking amongst the very best, as Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra complete their Beethoven Journey for Sony with the Emperor Concerto and Choral Fantasy

The Beethoven Journey has taken Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra through the first and third concertos, recorded in the Dvorak Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague on 22nd and 23rd May 2012, through concertos two and four recorded at St. Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, England on 22nd and 23rd November 2013 to their final destination - the latest release from Sony Classical.

And what a journey it’s been. With the first two issues I used terms such as ‘deeply probing and distinguished performances’, ‘subtle details and depth of feeling’, ‘provides wonderful insights’ and ‘hugely recommendable’.

Andsnes has not rushed into these recordings, taking them into concert and absorbing the music before committing them to disc.

Now to the final release from Sony Classical of Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat major, Op.73 ‘Emperor’ and the Fantasy for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra in C minor, Op.80 ‘Choral Fantasy’. 


The Allegro of Piano Concerto No.5 opens with a strength and assurance from both soloist and orchestra with Andsnes providing fine delicate phrasing. The orchestra moves ahead decisively, full of authority and with beautifully wrought quieter passages. When Andsnes enters again he provides clear, beautiful phrases, observing every dynamic. The orchestral textures are extremely fine showing how much Andsnes has worked with this orchestra. Andsnes moves through some wonderfully well sprung, dynamic, fast flowing passages with such élan. This is musicianship of a particularly high order.  Centrally Andsnes brings a light-heartedness before the climactic chords for piano against the orchestra. Andsnes’ fluency and touch are superb. There is a superb little cadenza that is sensitively carried through to the huge scales that follow.

There is a beautifully paced orchestral opening Adagio un poco moto, with just the right amount of forward push. Andsnes brings a similar forward urge to his playing, with very fine purity of tone and exquisite phrasing. It is Andsnes’ subtle, almost imperceptible changes of tempo and dynamics that bring such a mesmerising effect.

The Rondo. Allegro brings taut, rhythmically well sprung playing that fairly bounces ahead, full of joy. Andsnes and his players seem to really throw themselves into the music with magnificent results. This pianist’s pure tone comes through in the quieter passages with a delicacy that is extremely fine. The coda is simply terrific.

Just as in the previous releases, Leif Ove Andsnes has brought a subtlety and depth to this concerto revealing its many moods and depths.

The Prague Philharmonic Choir join Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra for Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy. The Adagio opens with some fine, broad piano chords before falling to the intricate little phrases that Andsnes works up so well. There are phrases that recall the Fifth concerto with Andsnes bringing much to the attractions of the piano part of this work, showing that, for all its oddities, there is much inventiveness and entertainment.

After the orchestra enters for the Finale the piano joins with its sprightly motif before the music takes off, full of wit and charm highlighted by Andsnes’ amazing ensemble with the orchestra. The finale of the ninth symphony is foreshadowed before some terrific, dynamic playing. Andsnes also brings much sensitivity to this rather extrovert work, showing a subtlety that could easily be lost and, indeed, often is. There is spontaneity galore in the sudden piano flourishes before the chorus enters and some tremendous playing as the chorus and orchestra head forward with Andsnes achieving a fine balance of his forces right up to the coda.

These performers tend to make the Choral Fantasy sound greater than really it is with a direct spontaneity coupled with fine sensitivity. All in all this is a very fine performance. 

Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra have topped off a considerable cycle with a real winner. There is something in these performances that just lifts the music. It all sounds just so right.

These are performances to live with and, surely must rank alongside the very best committed to disc. The recording made at the Dvorak Hall, Rudolfinum, Prague on 20th and 21st May 2014 is excellent. There are informative booklet notes.

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