3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Of course! Though some termagants have accused Leif Ove Andsnes of "caution" and "impersonality" -- meaning, I think, a disdain for post-Romantic efflorescence -- no one could possibly make a program of modernist music such as the five compositions on this CD intelligible on first hearing (as Andsnes does) or enjoyable without "refined musicianship" plus a large measure of very secure technique. If you hear any "caution" in this performance, be sure to mark the exact minute and post it as a comment.
The twin centerpieces of this recording are the concertos by Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) and Marc-André Dalbavie (b. 1961). There are half a dozen recordings, at least, of the Lutoslawski concerto, but the Dalbavie is utterly fresh, commissioned for and premiered by Andsnes in New York in 2005. Lutoslawski and Dalbivie speak different languages about their musical theories but the two concerti have many similarities, both in sonority and in affect. By 1987, when his piano concerto was completed, Lutoslawski had 'loosened' his commitments to serialism and to aleatoricism and allowed himself a lot of freedom of orchestral coloration. This concerto is quite gracious in its 'ad lib' chromaticism. Most of the fun is in the orchestration, though an eager athleticism is demanded of the pianist. The much younger Dalbivie has been associated with a compositional theory described as "spectralism", and much of his work has featured assemblages of electroacoustic and conventional instruments. The mantra of spectralism is simple: "music consists of sounds, not notes." In other words, composers like Dalbavie are preoccupied more with 'how people hear their music' than with how the music is put together. Lest that sound like literary 'post-modernism' in the concert hall, it should be realized that the results, at least in this concerto, are not daunting or grim. It turns out that the root of "spectralism" is the 'spectrum' of timbres as heard in a given acoustic space, and nothing to do with 'spectres'. In Dalbavie's concerto, which ought perhaps to be heard live in a hall rather than on speakers of any caliber, the spectrum is the shifting relationship of orchestral foreground and background, with the piano functioning as the 'guide' from section to section. Andsnes professes to hear echoes of Grieg in the piano part, though my ears are not Norwegian enough to detect them.
Spectralism is discussed in some detail in the CD booklet, in notes by Bent Sørensen (b. 1958), himself a composer whose music for solo piano is heard first and last on this CD. His 16-minute fantasy "The Shadows of Silence" was purportedly inspired by the pealing of church bells heard accidentally over a cell phone. Whatever, I say. It's a powerfully affective piece, whatever its inspiration. It sounds massively challenging to play, though one of the pleasures of hearing Leif Ove Andsnes is that his pianism never sounds labored. The pianist is heard to 'hum' polyphonically during part of the music; fortunately Andsnes has a better voice and a surer sense of pitch than another famous keyboard hummer.
"Silence" is more than an evocative word in a title, here in this music. The eight very brief selections from "Games" by György Kurtág are studies in the interpenetration of sound and silence. That is to say, what seems beautiful and expressive is the resonance, the after-sound, of the piano, and the contrast this makes with moments of absolute silence. Andsnes is extremely deft - refined! - in his use of the pedals; to my ears he overcomes the limitations and handicaps of digital sound recording in order to render this music plausible on your lovely home sound system, whatever its quality.
Credit must be given also to conductor Franz Welser-Möst, heard on this CD leading the orchestra of the Bavarian Radio. Welser-Möst has contributed his baton to some of my favorite CDs and DVDs of Mozart. The refinement he's absorbed from "historically informed" performances can be heard in his highly rational control of dynamics, as he balances his orchestral forces with the glistening timbres of Andsnes's piano.
Overall, as one previous reviewer has noted, this program of music is modest in its philosophical and psychological demands on the listener. It IS music made of Sounds, and the sounds are wonderful in themselves.