Saturday, June 18, 2011

Discovering Leif Ove Andsnes – A Pianist After My Own Heart!

 Leif Ove Andsnes - Grieg (Mountain Top)

A friend in France, a piano teacher at a conservatory there, posted a link to a documentary this pianist had done, of which there were supposed to be 8 parts. Well, actually I was only able to find the last 6 and the complete documentary he did. The entire thing doesn't appear on the internet yet so I will have to find it and view it in its entirety, since it is so good. Before this, I'd never heard of him, but then he was born in 1970.

Andsnes, or Leif Ove as he seems to prefer, is among other things a proponent and exponent of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843 – 1907). He has recorded the Lyric Pieces on Grieg's own Hamburg Steinway B, the kind that used to have raised lettering on the signature Steinway diagonal spur in the plate of the piano. It's Grieg's birthday on the 15th of this month, so Grieg's music is now well over 100 years old and still holds up remarkably well.

And of course, wouldn't you just know it, he has played one of the truly underrated gems in the piano literature, Grieg's eternal and unforgettable Notturno:

Leif Ove's documentary was important in many respects, it was beautiful – using many scenes from Norway, it conveyed Leif Ove's view of pianism, as including the qualities of silence as much as sound, indeed Leif Ove says that we are overloaded with sound and cannot endure silence, that we need to listen for silence, for what it does to clear the mind and bring relaxation, inspiration, etc. He also spoke of the sound during the moments of a piece as being as significant as the whole piece, of the notes constructing an enclosure for the silence inside, all sorts of wonderful ideas which he could execute as he plays in what I must say is a deeply poetic style to my hearing as well as being technically precise. You can hear the way he has paid attention to this idea of musical moments as in this piece:

This awareness of episodic sound qualities in the music he plays enables Andsnes to learn the most complex music as if he's breaking everything apart into moments and then stringing them together. The effects produced are in some instances unfamiliar, but always effective and often more satisfying to the ear and the mind. The documentary shows some of Leif Ove's preparation for his première in St. Petersburg, Russia in the same beautiful concert hall featured in a previous post about Gustav Mahler's Fifth Symphony played there. His ambitious choice, the Third Piano Concerto of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 - 1943) , which is my favourite of his concertos for among other reasons that it was written to be premièred in New York. 

Well, I couldn't find that performance anywhere either, but there is this one he played with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lionel Bringuier, who I've never heard of either.

What you are going to hear is remarkable, as if all of the various sinews of Rachmaninoff's music are made distinct and have their unique and personal moment for you and everyone else to appreciate them. This includes the ways Leif Ove mingles the piano's line with those in the surrounding orchestra as Leif Ove says, and I agree, this work is splendidly orchestrated. Here is a frank reading, not overly gushing as some play it, completely on top of it technically, played in the same spirit as if this were Bach almost, so precise but more letting you have just that little extra time to hear everything. At times the sense of it is so thrilling that you are more sure than anything that you have heard a new and distinct way of interpreting not just this concerto but all the rest of Rachmaninoff as once Byron Janis' interpretation thrilled me. .Just listen to this man play the piano!  What he does is often breathtaking!

It should be duly noted that in most instances Leif Ove Andsnes is shown playing Steinway pianos, more than likely built in Hamburg. They are very difficult to beat at producing just what he wants. However the piano he used for the Mountain Top shots was a Bösendorfer as they have a distinct tail design no one else uses. CORRECTION: I took another look at the piano and got a good look at the fallboard and the name on it revealed it to be an old Ibach grand!  Alas, Ibach, once the oldest piano making business in family hands for six generations had to call it quits a few years back.  They are still great pianos! 


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