EIF 9: Intelligent Programming from the Remarkable Andsnes

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Beethoven, Chopin: Leif Ove Andsnes (piano), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 16.8.2012. (SRT)

Beethoven: Piano Sonata in C Op. 53 “Waldstein”
Piano Sonata in F Op. 54
Chopin: Three Waltzes Op. 70
Waltz Op. 42
Nocturne Op. 62 No. 1
Ballades Nos. 1 & 3

Leif Ove Andsnes Photo Credit Ozgur Albayrak

Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata, one of the most powerful and difficult works in the pianist’s repertoire, is more often than not the centrepiece or the culmination of a recital. To open a concert with it is a remarkable statement of confidence. Such confidence is well placed when the work sits under the fingers of one of the most remarkable pianists of our generation.

Andsnes is a familiar figure on the Edinburgh stage and his Beethoven playing is every bit as remarkable as one would expect. The gentle, almost tentative mood of the sonata’s opening gave way to a broad statement of the second subject which approached transcendence, and the mood of the finale seemed, at times, other-worldly with little regard given to the sheer difficulty of the passage at hand. Andsnes’ playing was by turns muscular, meditative or magisterial depending on the piece itself.

But how do you follow that? Rather intelligently, as it happens. The often overlooked Op. 54 sonata here sounded like a work of eloquence and moment, the first movement coming across as a conversation leading into a vigorous finale.

He also managed to lift the Chopin selection into the territory of something rather special. I have to admit that Chopin’s music often leaves me feeling cold, but the waltzes were good fun – occasionally a little more than that – and the muscular Nocturne sounded not only beautiful but even a little experimental.

The two Ballades were really rather singular, particularly the first with its soaring second theme which undergoes the full gamut of transformation in the course of the work. Andsnes’ honest yet poetic approach managed to convince that this was a work of scale and significance, something I don’t often get from Chopin, and the power of the final pages will stick with me for a while.

This concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and will be available on BBC iPlayer for seven days from the date of the concert.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 2nd September at a range of venues across the city. A selection of performances will be reviewed in these pages. For full details go to www.eif.co.uk

Simon Thompson