Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 11 in B-flat Major, Op. 22
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101
Beethoven: Six Variations on an Original Theme in F Major, Op. 34
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57, "Appassionata"
Amidst all the numerous uncertainties of life, one thing I am always confident about is that my more or less annual rendez-vous with pianist extraordinaire Leif Ove Andsnes will be a source of delight and wonder. And it never fails. So this season, I was looking forward to hearing him put his superb skills to work... on a long-overdue Beethoven recital.
By his own account, he was waiting to be ready for his "Beethoven Journey", and the time has apparently come. Since this would in all likelihood be yet another musical adventure to remember, my friends Paula - a long-time devotee - and Linden - a curious uninitiated - and I met in at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday night and happily joined the ever-increasing hordes of other Andsnes admirers.
From the get-go, opening the concert with Beethoven's Sonata No. 11 seemed like a perfectly appropriate way to pay homage to the composer's early-period works before moving to more exciting offerings. The thing is, however, that plenty of excitement came out of this not overly popular piece too, largely thanks to Leif Ove Andsnes' uncanny ability to expertly highlight the tiny details, boldly bring out the attractive colors and subtly underline the smooth textures. His clean-cut look for the evening conveyed an undeniable sense of respect and control, but there was no lack of carefree playfulness in his playing either.
Then we jumped over one and a half decade in time all the way to his late-period Sonata No. 28. Beautifully intimate in nature and technically complex in form, it received an assured and committed interpretation, all the way to the intricate, upbeat ending.
Back to the beginning of the 19th century after intermission, Andsnes turned the Six Variations on an Original Theme in F Major, Op. 34 into a fascinating exercise. Beside the innovative fact that each variations had its own key, the series was notable for its overall improvisatory, yet involved, feel.
The obvious anchor of the concert, Beethoven's middle-period "Appassionata" easily met and resolutely surpassed our wildest expectations. For this meaty pièce de résistance, Andsnes metaphorically got rid of his formal tie, unbuttoned his pristine shirt, and played with a no-holds-barred intensity that grandly swept everything on its way. The fact that he was able to steer so commandingly one of the most turbulent storms of the repertoire may not have been so surprising after all, and could unquestionably be counted as yet another supreme proof of his remarkable mastery of his craft.
Since neither the suddenly revved-up audience nor the newly liberated soloist seemed ready to leave, we got to enjoy three perfectly rounded encores, starting with more Beethoven courtesy of his "Bagatelle" in E-flat Major and Allegretto from Piano Sonata No. 22. To progressively cool off and wrap things up with a semi-unexpected touch, the very last party favor of the night had Leif Ove Andsnes go back to one of his first musical loves, Franz Schubert, and the exquisite rêverie that is his "Moment musical" No. 6. Then we all finally, if still reluctantly, left.