Following rave reviews in Europe, Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin continued their mammoth duo recital tour in the States performing in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and ending in Washington on Monday night.
This morning’s Washington Post opened with the headline “A Grand Slam Match of Crack Pianists” and went on to comment “Andsnes and Hamelin offered the equivalent of a Grand Slam tennis match – not in the sense of a rivalry, but in the sense of a meeting of two champions at the top of their game, each pushing the other to do their best”.
The Chicago Tribune followed suit: “The pianists are just different enough in matters of style and temperament to complement one another. In their recital of Mozart, Debussy and Stravinsky, the precision and spontaneity of their playing reflected a summit meeting of fingers and minds you would expect to find in far more seasoned duos than theirs.”
The center-piece of their programme was the two piano original version of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” which “retains the power to shock in part through its raw, blazingly colorful orchestration” wrote The New York Times. “But the piece actually first came into being as a piano duo. Throughout his life, Stravinsky liked to sketch his pieces at the piano. So the piano version of the “Rite” is, in a way, the original … On Friday at Carnegie Hall, two formidable pianists, Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin, ended their concert with a fearless, incisive and surprisingly alluring account of this “original” version of the “Rite.” The audience may have been as overwhelmed — in the best way — as that group in 1912. Familiar episodes of this score — the pummeling “Dances of the Young Girls,” the ritualistic “Spring Rounds,” the mysterious introduction to the second part — came through with stunning freshness and clarity. There was a long standing ovation …”
“What made last night special was not a duo-piano team” said ConcertoNet.com. “For more than a century, duo-pianists have been a popular staple, playing popular music from Schubert to Rachmaninoff. Add to this, some kind of genetic miracle is in the air, and dozens of twin prodigies make a good living with some good playing. What made the team of Canadian Marc-André Hamelin and Leif Ove Andsnes so special is a) they are amongst the most prominent solo pianists in the world; and b) they are amongst the most adventurous soloists … So what happens when the two get together? One expected to use the word fireworks, but that won’t do. Andsnes and Hamelin don’t have a genetic synchronicity, they have a quantum physical conception. Boring remarks on their “togetherness” were superseded by their singularity as two artists producing so many different colors, mixing textures from so many different parts of the stage.
And whilst Stravinsky drew most attention, their performance of Debussy’s En Blanc et Noir “was elevated to an unusual level of clarity and subtlety” according to the San Francisco Classical Voice. “In the opening, you could imagine giant ocean wave after wave but also the spray of water droplets, captured in fine detail by the pianists. The musical texture possessed boldness more like the precisely carved woodblock prints of Hokusai than the paintings of Renoir, and lyrical lines were drawn with clear outlines. Hamelin may have been more modest than Andsnes in being poetic, but the two continued to challenge each other, while balancing the dynamics and colors. The radiant, unison fanfare toward the end of the second movement was a triumph, with the two instruments creating a wide soundscape that practically defied physics …”