The Financial Times reviews Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin’s duo recital in London
“Some artists achieve greatness by big competition wins, massive press campaigns, drop-dead good looks or a penchant for branding their name on everything from sneakers to pianos. Others simply by being mesmerising musicians: Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin, for instance, and it’s not surprising that this concert had been sold out for months.
“To begin with Mozart was daring, because there is nowhere to hide, and I wondered at times if his unfinished Larghetto and Allegro (in a completion by Paul Badura-Skoda) sounded a bit too boisterous on two modern Steinways. However, the aplomb of this Norwegian-Canadian duo in the Allegro was infectious.
“We then moved from the 18th to the 20th century, though Stravinsky’s Concerto for two pianos channels the ghosts of the Classical masters, and Beethoven in particular. It is a piece that can sound irascible in the wrong hands, but Andsnes and Hamelin brought myriad colours to the sombre tread of its Nocturne and a lightness of touch to the chewy fugal writing in the finale.
“With Debussy the textures softened somewhat — his mantra was, after all, that pianists should imagine they were playing an instrument with no hammers. That said, En blanc et noir (1915) is one of his more acerbic works, haunted not only by the first world war but also by the cancer that would kill him three years later. Andsnes and Hamelin illuminated Debussy’s textures with great finesse, drawing out the work’s many allusions, quotations and distant gunfire.
“For Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring the two pianists swapped places, Hamelin now taking the primo role (the one taken by the composer in the work’s first unveiling, with Debussy, no less, taking the secondo part). If the two-piano version lacks some of the stranger sonorities of the orchestral score, not least the high-lying bassoon opening, what is underlined is its savagery — never overdone here — and sheer intricacy, both rhythmically and texturally. Andsnes and Hamelin, flawless in their timekeeping and undaunted by the work’s spectacular demands, avoided the temptation to let rhythmic panache overshadow everything else. The two Steinways proved more than equal to the task too.
“The Wigmore audience erupted at the end, and we were treated to encores that found Stravinsky in rather more playful mood — his Tango and Circus Polka.”