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Refined, self-effacing interpretations from Andsnes with crystal-clear sonics
on 5 January 2013
It's been two years now since Leif Ove Andsnes' last CD came out. Formerly contracted with EMI, he's switched over to Sony Classical. This CD is a taste of things to come, as it's not only his first disc with his new label, but it's the first of his Beethoven concerti cycle with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Andsnes is a pianist I saw live twice and have followed with enthusiasm. He's starting his cycle out with the 1st and 3rd concerti. Sony is making the effort seem adventurous by entitling it "The Beethoven Journey".
Oh, and I forgot to mention the conductor, which is Andsnes himself. This isn't his first endeavor of the sort, having put out three CDs of Mozart and Haydn with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. This shouldn't be news, but the Mahler Chamber Orchestra is a few rungs higher on the ladder than its Scandinavian rival. It doesn't take long until this is evident; Andsnes couldn't ask for more sophisticated chamber partners.
But the very fact that Andsnes is choosing a chamber orchestra instead of a regular orchestra and conductor proves that he wants intimacy. This isn't an authentic performance by any means, though. Andsnes has a firm technique that he showcases with authority and his accompanists are full and commanding. It's a very classicist affair; no romantic excesses, please. What, then, is the vision that leads our Beethoven journey?
Simply put, Andsnes wants to present the concertos in their glory without letting himself get in the way, to use a clichéd line of the purists. He favors reticence over flamboyancy, lyricism over excitement. Sensitive sounds abound with the utmost clarity. Sony's sound is what we expect in 2012 and they pick up subtleties everywhere. But as much as Andsnes' laidback refinement appeals to me, I'm not sure he's exposing a personality that turns these concertos into anything revolutionary. I wonder if that's intentional.
Should these concerti be viewed in this light? That's the question I've been struggling to answer. I can't give a concrete answer, but I feel that greatness requires more than beautiful playing and perfect sound. All the same, you can't deny the attraction of Andsnes' approach. There's a certain cold purity that grabs the ears. Everything is crisp, perfect. I'm reminded of Perahia's set with Haitink and the Concertgebouw. Andsnes seems more committed than Perahia, though, and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra is more exuberant than the Concertgebouw was for Haitink. And the sound is indescribably better.
I'll pass the question on to you: is authoritative perfection coupled with lyricism what we want in Beethoven? If you answer yes, this CD beckons you and your wallet.