Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Oslo Konserthus, Munkedamsveien 14, 0115 Oslo, Norway

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Mozart Piano Quartet in G-minor, K478; Piano Concertos – No.20 in D-minor, K466 & No.21 in C, K467

Moved on practical and streaming grounds from Bergen to Oslo, and postponed by twenty-four hours in respect of Blackout Tuesday’s “solidarity and support to put an end to racially motivated violence”, this Bergen International Festival closing concert neatly demonstrated that whatever the  restrictions and incursions into our lives of the Covid-19 pandemic musicians want, have an urgency, to make music, and that performances with the power to assuage, inspire and be great can still be possible.

Not a man given to haste or risk, Leif Ove Andsnes’s affinity for the Viennese classical style has long been assured and uplifting. His strength lies in his directness. Put simply, he plays what’s on the page, nothing is over-ornamented, his pulse is pliable but fundamentally grounded, his rhythm has a spring to it. The belief that you don’t have to gild or exaggerate the music to make a point, the sense of structure surrounded by space and air, is refreshing.

Then there’s the poise and clarity of his pianism, his pellucid dolce touch. The Allegros of the Mozart Piano Concertos mesh countless runs and arpeggios, here legato, there staccato, often at a halfway house. How Andsnes negotiates these dizzying traps and white-note mazes, danger in every high-speed figuration and changing hand-position – security of fingering, a quiet posture and calmness of action being pre-requisites – is a masterclass in obstacle negotiation, a joy to watch and hear. Wearing his learning lightly, he never puts a foot wrong.

“Mozart Momentum: 1785/1786”. The G-minor Piano Quartet, K478, music of a Vienna autumn, commanded for a strong climactic first-movement development section, an expressively crafted Andante, Andsnes (pictured) teasing out unexpectedly woodwind-like sonorities, and a Finale complete with added cadenza (into Letter H) and undulating paragraphs like so many leaves falling. “This is no longer in any sense music of mere sociability, which can be listened to superficially”, Alfred Einstein once wrote. It felt like that. No-one smiled even if once in a while a look of sad hope might flit between players. A moving account (major more than minor), with involved, responsive string participation (Elise Båtnes, violin, Catherine Bullock-Bukkøv, viola, Louisa Tuck, cello, severally first concertmaster and section leaders of the Oslo Philharmonic).

Introducing the Concertos, directed without fuss from the keyboard, Andsnes, open-shirted, spoke engagingly (in English) about what he sees as their new-found psychology, how “they changed the whole story of the Piano Concerto”, how the soloist had effectively become an “individual”, the orchestra a “society” – citing the “lonely voice from afar” of the piano’s opening entry in the D-minor work (K466). With the Steinway (lid off) placed within the orchestra, the music-making boasted good dialogue and conversation, every one having a role within the texture, eye contact as needed. Concerto No.20, the D-minor (Beethoven’s first-movement cadenza, characterfully executed), had angst, patrician romance, a Don Giovanni moment or two, and the kind of trumpet dominance at the end that too many conductors restrain.

The C-major Concerto, No.21/K467, rose to grandeur without becoming saturated, Andsnes spinning an unaffected slow movement (helpfully mouthing the rhythm before commencing the violin/viola triplets), and generating a ‘chamber’ mannered exchange-rich Finale graced with a surprise low C signing off the cadenza (delicious). The tang and sparkle of a light wine.

Andsnes on home turf. The Oslo Philharmonic in its centenary season – concert dress, separate music-stands, distanced. No audience. A ripple of applause from the players. Celebration.