Andsnes Plays Mozart



It was time to find out if he keeps his streak alive. In just over a year, Leif Ove Andsnes has impressed me greatly in Grieg and Bartok, so it was time to hear if he can hold his own in Mozart. His disc of Haydn concertos is splendid, so I had high hopes. My hopes were met.

Rather than start off with some of Mozart’s biggest concerto hits, Leif (or the EMI A&R folks) decided to go with lesser recorded masterpieces, the 9th, K271 and the 18th, K456. I’ll start with the earlier work. While I like the early-ish E flat concerto, it can seem a bit long for the material, especially if the wrong soloist and band are playing. Fortunately, Andsnes and his cohorts – the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra – avoid that fate. The outer movements are kept swift, buoyant, and lively, and all involved sound as though they are enjoying themselves. The slow middle movement is played in an appropriately slower, darker mood, but it never gets bogged down or too melodramatic. It sounds like it’s from it’s time.

The 18th fares even better, which only makes sense because it is the better work. Just take what I wrote about the earlier concerto, and apply it applies here. The outer movements thrill at times. The strings get all whipped up and the orchestra really punches out the piece. It almost sounds in danger of overheating. Almost. But they know just when to stop.

The band plays exceedingly well. While modern instruments are used, HIP lessons have not been lost. No old-style vibrato and rubato is used, and everything is clear and crisp. More enchanting is Andsnes’ pianism. He adapts his playing to suit the needs of the music. He never threatens to overpower the proceedings, and he simply sparkles at times. Whether one considers the remarkably swift and articulate trills and runs, or the eminently tasteful cadenzas, or those passages where the piano becomes the accompaniment, he handles all with aplomb. If ultimately I find his Grieg Concerto to be a more impressive achievement (it is a truly great recording) and his Bartok more impressive, his streak is still alive. Perhaps I should investigate some of his Schubert. But whatever that may yield, I just hope he records more Mozart.

Sound is first rate, and as has come to be standard in his recordings, Andsnes does not dominate the proceedings. The piano is recorded in realistic perspective and is part of the ensemble. While perhaps a slightly more dominant piano may have been welcomed at times in the 18th, I rather fancy this approach.


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