Leader: Leif Ove Andsnes
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73, "Emperor"
Forty-five hours and counting after I had left Carnegie Hall completely dazzled by the first concert of Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra's "Beethoven Journey" on Monday, I was ravenously back for Part 2, namely his Piano Concertos No. 1 and No. 5. Fact is, even if one had not known that the mighty "Emperor" was on the program, it would have been easy to guess just by looking at the balcony as Monday's sparsely filled top rows were now brimming with all kinds of people and the whole Stern Auditorium was buzzing with the kind of anticipation that is reserved for big nights.
And so the journey resumed.
Beethoven's first official piano concerto, even though it was actually his second - but what the master wants, the master gets - is certainly the flashier of the two, and makes a powerful case to justify its first place in the composer's heart and, incidentally, music history. Boasting special ingredients such as a hypnotic clarinet in the sublime Largo and a cheeky surprise ending, the No. 1 provides an early glimpse in the ground-breaking works that were to follow. Leif Ove Andsnes and the orchestra beautifully emphasized the opulent richness of the composition with plenty of brilliance, thoughtfulness and dynamism.
Then came the big one, the one that most people were probably in the concert hall for, and who could blame them? When it comes to "take no prisoners" endeavors, it is hard to beat the assertively marching "Emperor". At that point, there was no stopping the on-going momentum and the No. 5 received the grand performance it inherently calls for, but never at the expense of the highly prized intimate moments, the musicians being always mindful to preserve the perfect virtuosic balance between impervious force and exquisite delicacy. I really can't imagine it could get better than that one.
And so the journey ended, but not without, you've guessed it, more Beethoven, with his Bagatelle in E-flat Major, Op. 126, No. 3 as well as two festive German Dances, the No. 11 in G Major and the No. 10 in D Major from 12 German Dances, the last one even featuring Leif Ove Andsnes heartily playing... the tambourine for a memorable light-hearted finale.