Leif Ove Andsnes – The Beethoven Journey

It’s taken a while for Leif Ove Andsnes to get around to Beethoven. And judging by the first installment of his traversal of the piano concertos, it was worth the wait.

This first volume of “The Beethoven Journey” includes the first and third piano concertos. According to Andsnes, they were chosen to provide a study in contrasts. The first is in C major, and has a lot of the lightness and clarity of Haydn and Mozart. The third is in the darker key of C minor, and brings more of Beethoven’s stormy personality to the fore.

Andsnes performs with clarity and authority. He’s given this music a lot of thought, and it shows in his playing. The lines are beautifully shaped, and there’s real emotion present. Scalar passages skip along pleasantly, ornaments provide mordant commentary, and the cadenzas aren’t just excuses to show off.

It’s hard to describe, but to me the cadenzas seem like places where Andsnes takes over, but doesn’t break character. He’s not giving us pyrotechnics, he’s performing a part of the work that just happens to be written for solo piano. A part that has clear connections to what’s gone on before, and what’s to follow.

The Mahler Chamber orchestra is conducted by Andsnes from the keyboard. The use of a chamber — rather than a full — orchestra gives these works a more intimate character. There’s drama, sure, but it’s not the thundering of the heavens. In his dual role of soloist and conductor, Andsnes tightly integrates the artistic direction of both piano and orchestra. Instead of a consensus arrived at through the collaboration between conductor and soloist, we get a singular vision of these works

Does this recording contain the ultimate versions of Beethoven’s 1st and 3rd piano concertos? No. But it does present thoughtful and original performances that serve both the composer and the artist well. I look forward to the next phase in Andsnes’ Beethoven Journey.

The Beethoven Journey
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Concertos No 1 & 3
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano; Mahler Chamber Orchestra

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