Saturday, February 18, 2012

Leif Ove Andsnes - Haydn, Bartok, Debussy & Chopin - 02/15/12

Haydn: Sonata in C Minor, Hob. XVI:20
Bartok: Suite Op. 14
Debussy: Images, Book I
Chopin: Waltz in F Minor, Op. 70, No 2
Chopin: Waltz in G-flat Major, Op. 70, No 1
Chopin: Waltz in D-flat Major, Op. 70, No 3
Chopin: Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 42
Chopin: Ballade in A-flat Major, Op. 47
Chopin: Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62, No 1
Chopin: Ballade in G Minor, Op. 23

Based on my recent visits only, Carnegie Hall’s august piano collection has been getting quite a workout these days. After Jean-Yves Thibaudet for Shostakovich’s first piano concerto last Saturday night, this week I got the pleasure to experience back-to-back concerts by Leif Ove Andsnes, in town for his annual recital on Wednesday, and Jeremy Denk for Beethoven’s first piano concerto (with the Orchestra of St Luke’s) on Thursday. But what can I say…. The more the merrier!
An established master of the keyboard for years now, Leif Ove Andsnes still manages to keep things interesting in his quiet, understated but unforgettable way, and I eagerly look forward to hearing him play at least once a year. From the glorious Rach 3 to Schumann’s intimate Kinderszenen to an innovative multi-media performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, his performances have always been remarkably engaging and consistency flawless.
This season, however, is even more special than usual for me because my beloved Chopin is on his program, and I just couldn’t wait to hear was such a dream pairing would bring. Haydn, Bartok and Debussy completed the predictably well thought-out playlist, so it was with even higher expectations that my friend Paula – an even bigger fan of his than me, if possible – took our seats in the Stern Auditorium on Wednesday night.

A rarely performed work, Haydn’s Sonata in C Minor is notable for its melancholy opening, which will eventually turn into deeply turbulent moments. From the very first notes, Leif Ove Andsnes effortlessly gave the piece just the right amount of clarity, grace and thoughtfulness. We were obviously in for yet another memorable evening in the company of our favorite Norwegian pianist.
Bartok was a consummate expert at mixing folk dances and late Romanticism, and he proved it one more time with his Suite, Op. 14. A stylistically inventive work, this short interlude lifted everybody’s spirits up with its almost jazzy overtones before ending in a more meditative mood. From the light-hearted start to the darker finish, Andsnes assuredly brought out all the wildness and insightfulness of the colorful score.
After Austria and Hungary, we moved on to France with Debussy’s Images, Book I and its myriads of subtle harmonies. Perfectly suited to Andsnes’ detailed and sensitive playing, the richly textured three movements came off superbly.
After intermission, we finally got to the heart of the matter with a mini Chopin festival including four waltzes, two Ballades and one Nocturne. If the playful waltzes came off more rhythmically animated than they would have in other hands, the Nocturne was all delicate refinement. The sophisticated Ballade in A-flat Major went off without a hitch, but it is in the final piece, the mesmerizing Ballade in G Minor, that he let his tremendous virtuosic juices unreservedly flow for what has to be the ultimate live rendition of this popular work of Chopin’s.

After such a rewarding performance, we would have forgiven him for calling it a night, but he was obviously not ready to leave us yet and came back for not one, not two, but three equally fabulous encores: Chopin’s Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 34, No 1, Granados’ Spanish Dance No 5, and Rachmaninoff's Étude-tableau in C Major, Op. 33, No 2. Another memorable evening indeed.

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