Leif Ove Andsnes at the National Concert Hall, 29 October 2015

Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes enjoys a huge international reputation for his concert appearances and recordings, and expectations are high for this event.

Marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius, Andsnes opens his programme with a selection of short piano pieces from across Sibelius’ career. Not well-known as a composer for piano, this is a rare experience. Andsnes projects a sense of space, clarity and directness, and proves a strong advocate for this material. He brings out the individual character of each piece, shifting between rippling energy and near-silent stillness, and between tonal warmth and lightness. The one major work of the programme is Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 18 in E flat. Andsnes’ absolute engagement with the piece is evident from the very first note, drawing the audience in as if wanting us to share his passion for this music. Nothing is taken for granted, and the charm, grace and enthusiasm with which he imbues this sonata make it irresistible. The work lives up to its nickname, ‘The Hunt’, in the final movement, and Andsnes’ quicksilver dexterity brings out its playful gallop with wit and energy.

The second half consists of four pieces each by Debussy and Chopin. Andsnes’ playing of Debussy’s ‘La Soirée dans Grenade’ is magical: delicate, yet intense, and able to build in power when necessary, seemingly without effort. The three études that follow underline his technical range, moving from gossamer lightness to dynamic, decisive power. The beauty, polish, and incredible range of tonal colouring of his playing continues through the four Chopin pieces. The Nocturne in F major is heart-breaking in its delicacy and power, while his account of the Ballade in F minor is mesmerising and exhilarating. Everything is well-judged and finely controlled.

Piano recitals can sometimes be intimidating, as the artist asserts his or her feats of technical precision, sheer power, and memory. Andsnes has all of that – his performance is faultless – and yet he manages to do something more. There is a wonderful sense of openness and engagement to his playing, crafting the sound and bringing the listener into his world, anxious for us to enjoy it as much as he evidently does. The palpable humanity of his playing makes this recital a beautiful and memorable experience.

Programme:

Sibelius: Kylikki – Three Lyric Pieces, Op. 41; ‘The Birch’, ‘The Spruce’ (from Five Pieces, Op. 75); ‘The Forest Lake’, ‘Song in the Forest’, ‘Spring Vision’ (from Five Sketches, Op. 114)

Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 18 in E-flat major (‘The Hunt’), Op. 31, no. 3

Debussy: ‘La soirée dans Grenade’ (from Estampes); Three études: ‘Pour les degrés chromatiques’, ‘Pour les arpèges composés’, ‘Pour les octaves’ (from Douze Études (1915))

Chopin: Impromptu No. 1 in A-flat major, Op. 29; Étude No. 2 in A flat major (from Trois nouvelles études); Nocturne No. 4 in F major, Op. 15, no. 1; Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52

Photos by Özgür Albayrak

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