Leif Ove Andsnes, pianist (photo courtesy of NRK)
After opening with Bach's E minor toccata (BWV 914), Andsnes launched into Beethoven's E-flat major sonata (op. 27, no. 1 -- see this online score). The work has been often in my ears recently, in recordings by András Schiff and Paul Lewis and, most importantly, on Alfred Brendel's farewell recital. Like Brendel and Lewis, Andsnes took the indication of "Quasi una fantasia" as a prompt for a detached, dreamy style for much of the piece, with a gentle approach to the first movement's first subject and aloof wonder at those unexpected C major chords. By contrast, the Allegro section was a wash of very fast notes and hammered accents. The second movement was even and clear-themed, and after holding the final note for a long time, Andsnes proceeded into an easy, straightforward third movement, as if it were marked attacca. The only complaint was related to the register shifts of the fourth movement's theme, which sounded a little hammered, although Andsnes never gave ground on the fast tempo.
Birch, the national tree of Finland
Concluding the set was the G minor ballade by Grieg, which Andsnes has played everywhere since the Grieg centenary last fall, including on top of a Norwegian mountain (the video of the piano being lifted up there by helicopter -- to the strains of Grieg's piano concerto, of course -- is a hoot). Composed after Grieg's parents had died, it is akin to Chopin's ballades (and their connection to the poetry of his native Poland) in its nostalgia for family and home. However, much like Grieg himself, the piece joins together Scandinavian folk elements and more southern, extended harmonies that would fit in with Ravel, Debussy, or even Poulenc.
Grieg, Ballade in G minor, op. 24, Leif Ove Andsnes
Anne Midgette, Pianist Andsnes, Better Than the Hype (Washington Post, April 24)
For the next WPAS concert, Kurt Masur will lead the Orchestre National de France next Monday (April 28, 8 pm), in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Beethoven (Piano Concerto No. 2) and Bruckner (Symphony No. 7) are on the program.