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Crisp, straightforward Beethoven piano concerti performances led by Andsnes
on 5 December 2012
It's amazing to believe that this CD is the first recording by Leif Ove Andsnes of the music of Beethoven, all the more so that it's a recording of Beethoven piano concerti and not piano sonatas. Here, Andsnes is both piano soloist, of course, as well as conductor of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, who prove to be very willing partners in the music-making. What is perhaps most immediately striking is the absence of interpretive idiosyncracy, where there are no strange pullings-about of tempo, for example. At the risk of reading too much into the readings, perhaps Andsnes, while clearly leader of the proceedings, feels himself to be first among equals, and wants the readings to be more like chamber music, where all parties listen to each other.
It will be clear from listening to the orchestral timbres that the Mahler Chamber Orchestra has learned from period performance practices, from the relative lack of vibrato in the string sound (though not to the point of total desiccation). Some might find the interpretations a tad "cool" emotionally, although one can argue that there's a fine line between "cool" and "bracing". I generally lean towards "bracing", in the overall straightforwardness of the readings, where Andsnes seems focused on presenting the music and not himself.
Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra recently performed the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3 at Symphony Hall in Birmingham, and listening on Radio 3, the overall spirit came off as very similar between the radio relay performance and this CD. Perhaps it shouldn't be your only choice of these concerti, but these are worth hearing, and not just by fans of Andsnes and the orchestra.