Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mahler Chamber Orchestra & Leif Ove Andsnes - All-Beethoven - 02/23/15

Leader: Leif Ove Andsnes
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58

Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes has been uniformly praised, increasingly popular, and therefore extremely busy for a long time now, but apparently he is still not inclined to rest on his many prestigious laurels. A case in point would be his latest venture, "The Beethoven Journey", during which he performs all five piano concerts by Beethoven with the international Mahler Chamber Orchestra during the course of two concerts. The tour has been scheduled to last 4 years, span 108 cities in 27 countries, and present more than 230 concerts. A remarkable feat that would give pause to even the most hardened globe-trotting artists.
His New York stop was at Carnegie Hall earlier this week, starting with the piano concertos No. 2, 3 and 4. It was an impressive trio to perform in a single concert, but who was I to stop him? So on Monday, after spending an exciting afternoon in Carnegie Hall's Resnick Wing for a master class with the fabulous Joyce DiDonato, I took a quick trip home and came right back down to spend a no less exciting evening in Carnegie Hall's Stern Auditorium with no less fabulous Leif Ove Andsnes. Some days are simply more memorable than others.

The concert started with a bit of irony as Beethoven's official Piano Concerto No. 2 is actually the first one he ever composed, so technically we started the journey at Square 1. But since the opinionated composer never really liked it and it was published two years after his actual second piano concerto, he decided to have the latter recognized as his first. Regardless of this bit of trivia, the Piano Concerto No. 2 is a lovely effort, if endearingly green is some aspects. The orchestra was obviously in fine form and their leader/soloist kept constantly busy, either playing at the topless piano or conducting sans sheet music, seating or standing, his back turned to the audience. The totally engaging performance set a promising tone for the adventure and proved once and for all that the No. 2 is nothing to be dismissed.
Written as Beethoven was experiencing the first symptoms of his coming deafness, the Piano Concerto No. 3 is nevertheless generally lively, occasionally mysterious, often unpredictable and definitely more confident. Leif Ove Andsnes and the orchestra effortlessly kept the momentum going, the delicate dreamliness of the Largo, the only movement not conducted at all among all the concertos, beautifully standing out between the grandly Romantic Allegro and the refreshingly exuberant Rondo.
After the intermission, we moved on to even richer and bolder sounds, to which Leif Ove Andsnes added its trademark touch of natural elegance and thoughtfulness, with the Piano Concerto No. 4. From the quietly lyrical opening to the dizzily brisk finale, the journey remained resolutely spontaneous, insightful, and fun.

It had been a long, challenging and magnificent concert, and I would have forgiven the performers for calling it a night, but the rapturous ovations they received from the surprisingly not quite full house were eventually heeded and rewarded by, well, more Beethoven, of course, with his Bagatelle in C Major, Op. 119, No. 8 and Bagatelle in A-flat Major, Op. 33, No. 7, both of which were decidedly no trifles. To be continued...

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