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Andsnes in all channels

Leif Ove Andsnes is still the best on the record.


The autumn is under the sign of pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, with the simultaneous release of Astrid Kvalbein's portrait book, a new CD with Rakhmaninoff's piano concerts and a DVD with a concert from the Posthallen in Oslo last year.


Dvd release Leif Ove Andsnes plays Bach and Mozart (EMI) consists of a concert Andsnes and the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra performed in the Posthallen in Oslo in the autumn of 2004, in connection with their CD release of Mozart's Piano Concerts Nos. 9 and 18. They perform the cantata from these two, as well as the first and second sets from the concert. No. 20. In addition, you get the last two songs from Johann Sebastian Bach's Piano Concerto No. 5. Between these, Andsnes comments. The release also includes an interview with Andsnes.

The concerts in Posthallen were part of EMI's strategy of promoting Andsnes as a pop star. This means moving away from the traditionally rigid forms of classical music and focusing on the music within a more intimate framework that emphasizes communication between performer and audience. Let it be said that I am in principle a supporter of such a way of thinking – even if it is in the name of commerce. However, it comes to a point where "communication" comes to the center, and that is the point it turns to populism. I am not saying that point has been reached in this case, far from it. But I have a feeling that Andsnes should beware.

The obvious disadvantage of the DVD is of course that there are no complete works on it, only excerpts. And although the excerpts are very well played, it is not enough; then you can just as well buy the CD – unless you are looking for the visual aspect. The 25-minute interview is also nowhere near interesting or musically in-depth enough to make this a release to recommend.

Portrait of the artist as a traveler

After Andsnes became a "classic celebrity" at the international level, it was only a matter of time before the first portrait book about him came. The Norwegian Association is behind Leif Ove Andsnes. With the music, written by Astrid Kvalbein, who has followed Andsnes for a year on tour, rehearsals, recordings and in social contexts with friends and family.

There are no formal surprises in the book, which are traditionally and chronologically constructed. I don't know if it has anything to do with the shape, but sometimes it seems that Kvalbein doesn't quite manage to separate the essentials from the essentials, and I often think that it can be a bit long-winded, especially in the build-up to big events. Nevertheless, the book is generally characterized by good journalistic craftsmanship, which at best makes the book a "page tourer". The negative with this journalistic ease is that the language unfortunately several places are trivial and clichéd. I don't expect art prose, but when the book starts with the phrase “Leif Ove Andsnes came to the world like most of us; with a roar, "it gets a feature-like feel, and my enthusiasm for the book is frustrated, regardless of what it has to convey. Fortunately, however, it fades in, and Kvalbein manages to convey a great deal about the personal costs of being a world-class soloist with 250 travel days a year.

The problem with this type of portrait book is that, paradoxically, they can be both too close and too distant in relation to the person being portrayed – both saying too much and too little. That is to some extent the case with this book. You get some slightly uninteresting, trivial information at the same time as you miss some more in-depth questions about the relationship to the music and what it means on a more "metaphysical" level for Andsnes. Despite the objections, this is a book that can be well recommended to those who are enthusiastic about Andsnes in particular or classical music in general.

Piano concerto as orchestral music

Andsnes is also out with a new CD. He has previously recorded Rakhmaninoff's third piano concerto, and continues Sergei Rakhmaninoff: Piano Concerts Nos. 1 and 2 (EMI). The accompaniment is top notch, with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra led by Antonio Pappano.

Andsnes faces formidable competition in this repertoire, especially in the form of Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman's superb recording with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa's leadership, which came on Deutsche Grammophon two years ago.

Andsnes and Zimerman have a lot in common as pianists – both can be said to be "sober" and shy away from vulgar exaggerations. In these works, however, their differences become apparent. Zimerman's play is above all characterized by a crystal clear, almost hard brilliance, a muscular play that almost chops out the phrases. In addition, he has a free approach, which means that for a few moments he can be very expansive. In the powerful parties, Zimerman benefits precisely from the fact that he does not hold anything back.

The fact that Zimerman seems more powerful than Andsnes in the projection may also have something that he is more prominent in the soundscape than this one. Setting the soloist and orchestral voice more evenly and integrating them seems like a conscious choice from the producers of the Andsnes record, and the benefit of that is that you hear more of the orchestra's web, yes, the music becomes more of orchestral music rather than piano with accompaniment. And when the orchestra is the Berlin Philharmonic, that's a big advantage.

Andsnes' interpretation is more introverted, more lyrical and less obviously brilliant. His approach pays off in the lyrical parts, for example in the second movement of the second concert. The interplay between piano and orchestra here and Pappano's brushing off of the fine details is absolutely perfect. This is an approach that brings out more of the sub-voices, and is thus perhaps a more complicated reading of the work.

Choosing which of these two is the "best" becomes meaningless when the interpretations and the game are at such a level. What one prefers is simply a question of what one is looking for in this music.

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