Leif Ove Andsnes & the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Sunday 24th November.
The Mahler Chamber Orchestra is an extremely unusual group, free from state funding and founded in 1997 by Claudio Abbado and a group of players from the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra who wished to continue playing together. Along with this relatively left-field conception comes an exciting energy in performance. The orchestra open with Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks, directed from within the ensemble. Two things immediately strike the audience: the extraordinary level of communication between the players (chamber musicianship at the level of a top string quartet in a group of fifteen musicians), and by the fact that they so clearly love being on stage playing that music together. The sight of an orchestra’s members smiling and making faces at one another as they play is something we are not used to on these shores. Their account of Stravinsky’s thorny neoclassical masterpiece is clear and visceral.
Leif Ove Andsnes then takes to the stage for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which he directs from the keyboard. Andsnes’ playing is extraordinarily fluid, his lightning-quick scales seeming to extract invisible notes from between the keys. This performance brings out the Mozart in this music (despite its number, the first piano concerto Beethoven wrote). The final movement is the vivacious highlight of the work tonight.
After the break, we return to Stravinsky with his Septet, a chamber work for three strings, three wind and piano. This is an even more complicated work than Dumbarton Oaks, but again ensemble seems flawless. Chamber playing of the highest order.
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 removes any shadow of Mozart, subverting its genre both through its solo piano beginning and by its casting of piano and orchestra as two entirely different beasts in the wonderful slow movement. Both soloist and orchestra show off their full expressive range in this work with a masterful performance. Andsnes’ playing in the slow movement is of exceptional tenderness, and his power in the most forceful moments of the third movement is fantastic. There are many sections of the third movement which are downright eccentric; the searingly lyrical passages with piano accompanied just by a single cello are a prime example, along with the Ode to Joy-esque orchestral passages which follow immediately, and the famous cadenza. This cadenza is magnificent in Andsnes’ interpretation, as is the work in its entirety.
Throughout the evening both orchestra and soloist displayed not just flawless technique but also phenomenal musicality. The rapport the orchestra have among themselves and with Andsnes is a joy to watch, and probably nearly unmatched. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra is often overlooked when people discuss their favourite orchestras: make sure you see this orchestra!
Stravinsky – Dumbarton Oaks
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 2
Stravinsky – Septet
Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 4