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Briefly Noted: Andsnes champions Dvořák

available at Amazon
Dvořák, Poetic Tone Pictures, Leif Ove Andsnes

(released on October 28, 2022)
Sony 886449916887 | 56'10"
The last local appearance by Leif Ove Andsnes had been in 2017, a striking duet recital with Marc-André Hamelin. Happily for those like me starved for his stylish playing, Washington Performing Arts brought him back to the Kennedy Center for a stupendous solo concert last month. (Although unreviewed in Washington, the program was the same as his Chicago recital, reviewed by my colleague Lawrence Johnson.) Here in Washington, Andsnes ran the first half all together with no applause: he did not need to ask the audience not to applaud, but the unfamiliarity of the music and his command of attention kept the house quiet. For me the highlight of the evening was an astounding reading of Beethoven's Op. 110, full of technical wizardry and a witty approach to the quotation of silly folk songs and the self-mocking of the concluding fugue, a gesture recalled by Verdi in the finale to his opera Falstaff.

Andsnes's touring program closed with this forgotten set of character pieces by Dvořák, which the Norwegian pianist recorded in 2021. Op. 85, which runs to almost an hour, was a bit much to hear in a single sitting, but as usual Andsnes made a strong case for its revival. Dvořák wrote this collection over the course of several weeks on summer vacation in 1889, three years before he came to the United States. Andsnes came to know the pieces when he studied with a Czech teacher, as well as through a recording by Radoslav Kvapil. The pause in his concertizing during the Covid-19 lockdowns gave Andsnes the chance to study the set in detail, leading to this recording and the live performances on tour. Andsnes hits an ideal balance between the maudlin sentimentality of the simpler, slower pieces ("Twilight Way" and "In the Old Castle," among others) and the fierce virtuosity also required. Highlights include the fun starts and stops of "Toying" and especially the tipsy, spinning runs of "Bacchanalia," which Andsnes has likened to "a Scarlatti sonata gone mad." Folk touches come into play delightfully in "Peasant Ballad" and "Furiant."

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