Carl Nielsen: Chaconne, Op. 32
Jean Silbelius: Selections
The Birch Tree, Op. 75, No. 4
Impromptu, Op. 97, No. 5
Rondino II, Op. 68, No. 2
The Shepherd, Op. 58, No. 4 \
Romance in D-flat Major, Op. 24, No. 9
Ludwig von Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2 (The Tempest)
Franz Schubert: Two Scherzos for Piano, D. 593
Jorg Widmann: Idyll and Abyss
Franz Schubert: Drei Klavierstücke (Three Piano Pieces), D. 946
As far as I am concerned, Finnish Jean Sibelius is one of the most underrated composers ever, and Norwegian Leif ove Andsnes is a pianist that you can never hear too often. Therefore, the perspective of hearing the latter play obscure gems composed by the former was exciting not only from a purely musical point of view, but also because this recital would celebrate the end of Andsnes’ New York Philharmonic’s Artist-in-Residence engagement and, incidentally, promote his new Sibelius record because, after all, he might as well.
So my qualms about adding another concert to an already busy week did not linger very long and I excitingly grabbed tickets for my friend Angie and me, an Andsnes neophyte and a dedicated fan. That's how on that downright summery evening (What on earth happened to spring?!), which of course had to come with its usual share of sinus issues, we both eagerly headed to a Lincoln Center bustling with people eagerly marching on to their respective venue.
Inspired by Bach’s monumental Chaconne, Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s own Chaconne is a good choice for an opening number, even if it does not even come close to achieve the timeless grandeur of the original one (But then again, what does?). And since a cell phone rang as Andsnes had just started, immediately turning the guilty party into THAT person, he paused and restarted, so we even got to hear the first few notes twice!
The main curiosity of the program was the set of five Sibelius pieces selected by Andsnes, which turned out to be attractive miniatures, if not masterpieces, endearingly engaging with sporadic flashes of brilliance. And that was all for the better because while Andsnes is well-known for his thoughtful approach, he is also no stranger to letting sparkles happily fly too!
But as much as Andsnes gave a committed performance of the Sibelius works, he really came into his virtuosic own when he turned his undivided attention to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in D Minor. Whether its nickname actually comes from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest or not, the piece is undoubtedly stormy, and it received a crisp, vibrant and flawless reading.
The second part of the program had two sets of pieces by Schubert, the obscure Two Scherzos for Piano and the classic Drei Klavierstücke, bookending German composer, conductor and clarinetist Jorg Widmann’s Idyll and Abyss, in which fragments of Schubert’s surrounding efforts unexpectedly showed up in a resolutely twisted, post-modern structure to create eerily pointed effects.
It took a little bit of persuading, but we eventually got an encore by Sibelius again, because, hey, he was the man of the evening after all. More surprisingly, it was followed, as we were about to give up on feasting on a second treat, by a small but dazzling gem by… Debussy! Maybe because Adnsnes is a pianist of wildly eclectic taste, maybe because you cannot go wrong with Debussy.