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Ionarts-at-Large: Leif Ove Andsnes - Understatement and Innovation

Haydn – yes! How wonderful to see that Leif Ove Andsnes—along with Solveig Kringlebotn and Truls Mørk Norway’s foremost classical artist—brought a Haydn Sonata to his recital at Oslo Opera House. But to see the C-Minor Sonata (No.33, Hob.XVI:20) atop of the bill irked me amid delight. Haydn is not the warm-up, not the oh-this-is-nice-too piece amid more flashy Bartók, Debussy, and Chopin. Just like Haydn Symphonies, however desperately welcome they are in Philharmonic concerts, ought not be the ‘warm-up overture’ before the ‘real composers’. But it’s hard to grumble when Haydn is played with such sincerity (a humorous sincerity, as befits the composer) and earthbound preciousness as Andsnes did. He did so, unfazed by quadraphonic bronchial utterances from the audience that pockmarked all three movements with bemusing regularity.

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J.Haydn, Five Piano Sonatas,

Bartók’s Suite for Piano op.14 is a little engine that could, chugging away with whimsy, delight, and lots of rhythmic appeal… sides that Andsnes played up perfectly. It’s a delight in concert, benefitting considerably—like so much Bartók—from live performance. Perhaps this is one reason why Andsnes, amid his vast output for Virgin Classics and EMI, has not recorded any solo-piano Bartók. Stylistically switching on a dime, Andsnes performed three of Debussy’s Images: muscular tone paintings in his hands, rich in nuance and dynamic shades and gratifyingly devoid of clichéd pastels. Here, as elsewhere, a sense of innate rightness ruled. Andsnes makes musical points with everything he plays, but they’re often so subtle, that it’s hard to tell what point that might be. His success isn’t accidental; it comes from being one of the great understated innovators among pianists.

The second half of the recital was given over to Chopin. First: four uninhibited, muscular waltzes without any faux-French flavor and none of the ‘wilting lily’ Chopin-pretensions. This was extraordinarily healthy, robust Chopin – as were the following two ballades and the first, B-Major, Nocturne. When it was over and done with, four encores placated the grateful, proud audience. The Chopin Waltz, the Rachmaninoff Étude-tableau, the Granados Spanish Dance were all welcome. But there was one more, he wanted to squeeze in. At least one bit of Grieg—the composer he has championed more than any other in his quarter of a century long career—in this otherwise Grieg-less Oslo recital. Unfortunately the Lyric Piece op.54/2 (“Gangar”) is such a bloody ear-worm that leaving the opera house—which had incidentally showed itself a quality recital space—it dominated the memory at the exclusion of all the carefully balanced diversity that had come before.