Photo, Chris Christodoulou

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Royal Albert Hall, London

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Leif Ove Andsnes’s Beethoven cycle with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra was one of the highlights
of the 2015 Proms, not least for an imperious account of the Choral Fantasy that stays in the
memory. Occupying him and the MCO since – in concert and the recording studio, pandemic restrictions
notwithstanding – these two “Mozart Momentum” concerts, exploring defining Viennese landmarks
from 1785-86, centered around three Concertos directed from the keyboard, three orchestral
offerings led by the concertmaster Matthew Truscott, and three songs with Andsnes accompanying
Christiane Karg.

Of the concertos, the D-minor K466, has been in Andsnes’s system since the age of fourteen, the
sound of the orchestra then about him “like a roaring animal” still vivid. Quieter in the hall (more
present in the broadcast mix), ghostly at the start, it went on its way with imperious control and
expressive understanding, the familiar patterns dispatched honestly, a clean sheet before us. The
Romanze’s blossoming decorations were elegantly imaginative, emotionally tender – though the
view among many that the ‘white’ purity of Mozart’s original says all that it needs to remains a
persuasive argument. (Cadenzas: Beethoven, Hummel.) Dispensing overall with the lengthier
interpolated ornamentations of Landowska, Edwin Fischer, Perahia or later Brendel, the big E-flat K
482 needed perhaps greater stature in the first movement, the passage-work here and there
bordering on racing, note-spinning ordinariness. Undisputed, however, was the Andante, perfectly
judged, opening darkly, the pedigree woodwind of the MCO excelling in contribution and
personality. The slow episode of the Finale offered other insights, the solo entrance accompanied
(effectively) by string quartet rather than the full section. (Cadenzas: John Fraser, Geza Anda.)
The C-minor K491 of the second concert flowed a little less comfortably, the tempo of the first
movement (anonymous cadenza, Vienna c.1890) creating some uneasy phrasing and ensemble, the
pianism relatively soft-centered. Enhanced equilibrium and lyric composure in the second
movement might have helped stabilise its tempo in clearer perspective: both Hummel and Czerny
envisaged Larghetto as broader than Adagio.

Karg’s songs, beautifully, simply, delivered (Das Veilchen especially), plus the magnificent
recitative/rondo concert aria with piano obbligato Ch’io mi scordi di te? written for Nancy Storace
(Figaro‘s first Susanna), witnessed Andsnes at his intimately happiest. Considering that Mozart
scrawled Der Zauberer without tempo indication, the many shifts of speed aligned with text
addressed its strophic structure improvisationally, an approach favoured similarly in flexing the
Allegretto of Das Veilchen.

Left to its own devices, the MCO (antiphonal violins, two basses left of stage, natural
trumpets, valve horns) impressed with a crisply tight Marriage of Figaro Overture (afternoon), but
needed heightened vitality and fire in the ‘Prague’ Symphony (evening). A polite reading, players
standing, yet, Finale aside (both halves repeated), not one seemingly so committed or energised.
Comfortably cleared hurdles more than attacked puissance fences deprived the first movement
development of true grit and greatness.

Applause generally proved invasive, especially between the second programme’s Masonic Funeral
and C-minor Concerto where Andsnes’s intention to cross-fade mood and shared key, clear
body language in play, was insensitively sabotaged. A pair of Concerto slow-movement encores.
K488 (afternoon), K467 (evening) – the former poignant, the latter less enduring than his 2020
Berlin recording (same duration), twos-against-threes risking over-riding dreams. (concert 1)

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