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Leif Ove Andsnes – A disparate program held together by stylistic elegance

While visiting Chicago, I heard that the personable and very handsome Andsnes, one of Europe’s finest pianistic exports, who has acquired seven Grammy Award nominations and many international awards, was in town for a concert program. He also is performing the same program tonight at Carnegie Hall.

This was the perfect opportunity for me to assess Chicago’s stylish Symphony Hall. Located at the premier address, Michigan Avenue, the entire experience of the program fit in with the city’s mixed architectural skyline, a bit of old and a bit of new. While that mix exerts a certain charm in Chicago’s architectural landscape, at first glance, the concert’s program appeared a bit lacking in coherence.

However, Andsnes’ great effortless style and elegance, which was constantly present in his playing, gave the program’s an overall seamless quality without taking away from the essential expressiveness of each individual piece.

The two Beethoven Sonatas that flanked the Brahms and the Schoenberg pieces in the April 3rd. program told a lot about Andsnes’ technical prowess, as well as his great sense for architectural structure in music.

 Beethoven’s Waldstein, which the program noted as a groundbreaking work,  “revealing a previous unknown sound”, was performed with great sonority and alluring explorations of the composition’s core, yet fulfilled its main promise; namely to reveal. Perhaps there was even a nod to the last Beethoven Sonata No.32 in C Minor, Op.111, as a “Farewell to the Sonata form” as Thomas Mann in his Doctor Faustus coined it; and Andsnes’ dynamic range within the Brahm’s Opus 10 Ballades brought out – well, the endearing quirkiness of Brahms, with just the right amount of unassuming drama.

The most electrifying playing though was heard in Andsnes projection of all the fine nuances in Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces, Op.19. Here Andsnes expressed a sheer limitless array of color.

One of the Encores, a Kurtag flourish of a piece called Scraps of a colinda melody- faintly recollected, was rendered with a most pianistic pianissimo, a Chopin Waltz in A-flat Major op.42  and Schumann’s Romance in F-sharp Major, No.2, Op. 28 gave a  romantically infused introspective farewell. Andsnes’ celebrated status as a performer has already afforded him a sizeable EMI and Virgin discography and just last month he signed a new contract as a Sony artist. They plan to feature the forty year old Andsnes playing Beethoven’s five piano concertos with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, both performing and directing from the keyboard.

I was taken by surprise to hear of Andsnes’ just recent decision to step down from the post of music director of the 2012 Ojai Music Festival; a post previously held by some major interpreters of classical music with a cutting edge. I suspect, as he showed backstage visiting fans baby pictures of his now 10 month old daughter on his I-phone, there may be a time constraint reason. As he admitted smilingly: “On nights before concert performances, I get to sleep through the night in a separate room from the baby.” Thank god for connecting, yet clearly separate rooms in hotels, as well as for permitting the music to speak for itself, even without a binding contextual program.



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