“I have to say I think this is the great forgotten cycle of the 19th century piano music. Maybe those are big words, but I do feel that,’ states pianist Leif Ove Andsnes about his latest release on Sony Classical set for release on October 28, 2022 and available now for preorder. On this album, he presents the most substantial piano collection by the great Romantic composer Antonín Dvořák – the unjustly neglected Poetic Tone Pictures.
According to the Norwegian pianist, these undiscovered gems show an entirely different side to the composer known for his symphonies and string quartets. “I love this music and no one seems to play it,” says Andsnes, who also championed the rarely played piano works of Jean Sibelius with the release Sibelius in 2017.
The 13 postcards for piano that make up Dvořák’s Poetic Tone Pictures were written in the spring of 1889 and signal a shift in style from a composer moving away from formal constructions towards a more free, inspired aesthetic. Among these charming pieces are evocations of magic and mystery (“The Old Castle”), rustic dances (“Furiant” and “Peasant Ballad”), nostalgic mood pieces (“Twilight Way”), and tragic reminiscences (“At a Hero’s Grave”).
The works range from the deeply profound to the playful, from lighthearted to furious – “I feel a very strong, wonderful narrative in them,” says Leif Ove Andsnes, who firmly believes Dvořák conceived the pieces of this ‘exceptional’ set as a cycle to be played together.
“It’s a cycle of many stories but it also feels like one big story. I feel it’s like someone opening a book and saying, ‘Listen, I’m going to tell you something’. And then it just opens, piece by piece,” he further concludes. One of the world’s pre-eminent pianists, Andsnes was first inspired to play Czech music when a new teacher arrived at his conservatory in Bergen, Norway, from Prague. His enormous fascination with Poetic Tone Pictures led eventually to him performing parts of the repertoire at a Youth Competition at the age of 12.
Years later, as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world, Andsnes used the downtime to delve deeper into the Poetic Tone Pictures and commune with their stories. He found works of unerring charm and copious instances of Dvořák unfolding an orchestral breadth of color from the piano – in addition to his wickedly exciting use of cross-rhythms and syncopations, in the manner of Czech folk dances.
“I think he creates unique colors at the piano, and he uses the full range of the piano convincingly, even if he was not a pianist composer,” says Andsnes of Dvořák’s craftsmanship, which the pianist himself captures across a recording of spellbinding focus made at Olavshallen, Trondheim and produced by John Fraser.