Leif Ove Andsnes - Royal Festival Hall, 10 March 2008
Between the towel and the mighty fjord - Norway's biggest pianist
Bach Toccata in E minor, BWV.914
Beethoven Piano Sonata in E flat, Op.27 No.1 (Quasi una fantasia)
Sibelius Commodo (Kyllikki, Op.41 No.3), Elegiaco in C sharp minor, Op.76 No.10, The Birch, Op.75 No.4, Barcarola, Op.24 No.10
Grieg Ballade in G minor, Op.24
Debussy Preludes - Brouillards (Bk.2 No.1), Le vent dans la plaine (Bk.1 No.3), Les collines d'Anacapri (Bk.1 No.5), Des pas sur la neige (Bk.1 No.6), La puerta del vino (Bk.2 No.3), Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest (Bk.1 No.7), Bruyeres (Bk.2 No.5), La serenade interrompue (Bk.1 No.9), Canope (Bk.2 No.10), Ondine (Bk.2 No.8), La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune (Bk.2 No.7)
I've been keen to catch Leif Ove Andsnes for a while, but somehow the scheduling has never worked out till now. Tonight's smorgasbord of a programme offered tasters from an unusually broad repertoire. Unfortunately the starter, a ponderous and over-pedalled Bach Toccata, didn't show Andsnes in his best light. The Beethoven satisfied more, but still seemed timorous and fractured in comparison to the effusive assurance of Daniel Barenboim's recent account, still fresh in the memory.
With comforting predictability, Andsnes shifted into top gear with the Scandinavian section of the programme. The four Sibelius pieces, previously unfamiliar to me, may lack the depth and power of his symphonic work, but they do have a certain charm and vivacity that was underscored by Andsnes' intimate and relaxed delivery.
The Grieg Ballade, which Andsnes recently recorded for the first time (story and audio here), formed the centrepiece of the evening in every way. A twenty minute set of variations on a Norwegian folk song, it is all jagged cliffs and deep pools, with little of Grieg's characteristic drawing-room manners. Andsnes drew together its unevenly matched elements in a penetrating and virtuosic performance, truly revelatory.
His second half offering, an intelligent selection of Debussy Preludes based loosely on the theme of weather, was equally engrossing - not to mention unexpectedly appropriate, with storms raging outside all day. From the ever-mounting swells of the opening Brouillards to the ironic Au clair de la lune quote which begins the closing La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune, Andsnes mastered these richly evocative understatements with a memorable delicacy and refinement.