Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro
Monday, August 22, 2016
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
- L.v. Beethoven – Sonata no. 18 in E flat major, op.31 no.3
- J. Sibelius – Impromptus, op. 5, nos. 5 and 6
Rondino, op.68, no.2
Elegiaco, op.76, no.10
Kylliki, op.41, no.3
Romance, op.24, no.9
- C. A. Debussy – Trois Estampes
La soirée dans Grenade
Jardins sous la Pluie
- F. Chopin – Ballade no. 2 in F major, op.68
Nocturne in F major, op.15 no.1
Ballade no. 4 in F minor, op.52
The piano is arguably the most popular of all solo instruments, if not of all instruments. Although you can play a solo recital on any instrument you wish, I have yet to hear a solo tuba recital or a solo timpani recital. Violin, viola and cello come very close, as do most of the winds and the harp. The double-bass has a hard time, as illustrated in Patrick Süsskind’s bitter-sweet play “Der Kontrabass” of which I saw the French production in Paris with the late Jacques Villeret, the great actor who also played in the movie “Le Dîner de Cons”.
The reasons for this supremacy are obvious: a seemingly endless and mostly well-known repertoire , although there is a lot of room for surprises, as we will see later. It is also an orchestra in itself, as witnessed by Liszt’s beefy transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies and by the inumerous reductions from concertos with orchestra to instrument with piano accompaniment. And it was for a long time a permanent fixture in most homes, for children to flee or fall in love with, and for the purpose of Hausmusik. This is, most unfortunately, no longer true.
Great pianists, for the same reasons, become legends, but there they have competition from violinists who are equally revered. Nevertheless, it is the piano we are focusing on, so let us remember Mozart, Liszt, Clara Schumann, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Cortot, Horowitz, Rubinstein, Clara Haskil, Gieseking, Schnabel, Glenn Gould, Michelangeli… this enumeration is by no means exhaustive.
I am sure that Leif Ove Andsnes will join them for posterity, already being one of the greatest of the present moment. So it was with the utmost expectation that I prepared to hear him live for the very first time. Let me be frivolous for a moment, as the recital has not started yet. Andsnes is a very handsome and elegant man, with the build and demeanor of a tennis star – well, at least as they were a while ago, as they are nowadays far more relaxed, to say the least. I am thinking of Pete Sampras, Agassi and Björn Borg, all gentlemen of their sport. So appeared the gentleman-pianist.
Having of course heard of Andsnes’s ambitious Beethoven Journey, I was sure the first piece on the program was going to drive me to ecstasy. Surprisingly enough, and I really don’t understand why, not only it didn’t, but it was rather a disappointment. Although it was impeccably played, I found the tone somewhat dry and the interpretation too articulate, almost didactic or explanatory. Was the piano to blame or the fact that it was the first piece in the recital? Possibly. As far as the piano is concerned, what followed would prove the contrary. So let’s stick to the second reason.
Sibelius’s piano repertoire is probably not the most familiar, thus illustrating the point I made earlier, but Andsnes showed us why it should be. He definitely bloomed here, and expressed everything I found lacking in the Beethoven sonata. An exquisite and sensitive touch, perfect phrasing, which told the whole story and kept you riveted, a rich dynamic and rhythmic range, evidently well controlled but apparently effortless and flowing freely. It was in turn playful, lyrical, romantic, melancholy and impressionistic, auguring well what we would hear after the intermission.
And so it was. The Debussy was everything one could expect after hearing the Sibelius. The three Estampes were as impressionistic as a Monet painting. The subtle (or maybe not so subtle) program music was immaculately and discreetly rendered, but beautifully eloquent. From the Oriental timbres in “Pagodes”, to the smell of wet grass and the sound of children playing (listen to the quotations from the nursery song “Nous n’irons plus au bois”) in “Jardins sous la Pluie”, by way of what is maybe the most obviously descriptive, “La soirée dans Grenade”, where you can hear both Moorish and Spanish strains, while visualizing the Alhambra and the Jardines del Generalife. In each one, Andsnes set the perfect mood, always hinted, never shouted, but always sparklingly clear.
Andsnes seemed equally at ease and to the point when entering Chopin territory, a common stumbling block for many pianists who mistake romanticism and passion for cheap sentimentality and a display of keyboard bravura. An interpretative error Andsnes would obviously never commit. His flawless yet understated technique did serve the music superlatively well, and again, the intelligent and well-rounded use of dynamics and rhythm, as well as the extreme delicacy of the pedal, made for a very personal and gorgeous Chopin, faithful to the passionate character of the music, often fiery, often exceptionally romantic in the sense Lord Byron and Chateaubriand were romantics, a cerebral yet often desperate passion, I would say.
Two encores – a short Chopin prelude (maybe no. 17 or no. 19, I get them a little mixed up…) and the showy Grande Polonaise concluded the recital from this man from the North, a land which, belying its reputation for coldness and gelid aridity, has produced some of the best composers and interpreters of past and present days – composers such as Grieg, Halvorsen, Sibelius, Carl Nielsen, in the past, and in the present Arvo Pärt, Peteris Vasks and Aulis Sallinen; interpreters such as David Geringas, Gidon Kremer, Truls Mork and, last but not least, this evening’s star, Leif Ove Andsnes.