Last fall, 20 years after making his New York Philharmonic debut, Leif Ove Andsnes launched his tenure as the orchestra’s 2017-18 Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence. This past weekend, the pianist returned to New York for their second collaboration of the season, playing Britten’s little-known Piano Concerto under the baton of Antonio Pappano.
As Anthony Tommasini noted in the New York Times, the concerto was, like the others the pianist has chosen for his residency, an unusual choice:
“Odds are you have never heard a performance of Britten’s Piano Concerto, even if you’re a regular concertgoer. The same holds true for another rarity, Debussy’s Fantaisie for Piano and Orchestra. And while Rachmaninoff’s Second and Third Piano Concertos are staples of the repertory, his Fourth Concerto tends to turn up only when an orchestra is surveying all four. Well, the pianist Leif Ove Andsnes has come to the rescue. For his stint this season as artist in residence with the New York Philharmonic, he made the adventurous decision to play these overlooked works on three programs. In October he gave an incisive account of Rachmaninoff’s Fourth that made a case for this episodic piece as its composer’s most experimental score. He will play the Debussy in April.”
As for the Britten, Tommasini found Andsnes’s interpretation as impressive as his programming choices:
“Mr. Andsnes gave an exhilarating performance of Britten’s unconventional four-movement concerto, last heard at the Philharmonic 36 years ago. … The vibrant, insightful performance Mr. Andsnes gave with Mr. Pappano and the Philharmonic was a revelation. The concerto’s four movements have a slightly ironic, Neo-Classical veneer. Mr. Andsnes delved beneath that surface to tease out the music’s mercurial shifts and manic energy. The piano writing is almost frenetically brilliant; Mr. Andsnes dispatched it with such effortless command and penetrating clarity that every burst of arm-blurring octaves, every tangled patch of passagework, seemed both meaningful and fantastical.”
His performance drew similar praise from the New York Classical Review:
“Andsnes dove in with supreme confidence, showing sharp articulation in the rushing figures of the piano part, occasionally testing the ensemble, but giving an invigorating reading. … A sense of whimsy came through in the variations of the Impromptu, finding stretches of impishness and closing with glittering arpeggios. The closing March was pure pounding excitement, as Andsnes dazzled in the frantic piano part.”
Next month, the pianist looks forward to revisiting this triumph, when he reprises Britten’s concerto at concerts in Berlin and Vienna.