The Herald Scotland reviews the Edinburgh Festival recital

Rarely have the opening chords of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata sounded so exciting – not for any melodrama or overblown muscle, but for sheer wide-eyed, joyous adventure.

Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes might look hunky, but you’d be a fool to mistake him for a macho musician. Here is as refined and rigorous a pianist as you’ll find.

His mid-period Beethoven was a thrill for its pristine classicism: clear textures, pearlescent finger work, sparing use of pedal, superb architecture. But there was also a childlike adrenalin to the way he handled Beethoven’s contrasts – a sense of “what’s-hiding-around-the-corner” storytelling that made his Waldstein sound totally fresh.

Conversely, he gave Beethoven’s Opus 54 so much breadth and dignity that this often-forgotten little sonata sounded every bit as noble as the big-hitters.

After the interval he turned to Chopin with the same clarity and poise. Nearly all of his chosen pieces were written in keys with flats rather than sharps, and these darker shades really suited his touch. The waltzes (Op 70 Nos 1, 2 and 3 and Op 42) were straight-backed and somehow old-fashioned, prioritising an elegant tune in the right hand over too much maudlin swing in the left. The stripped-down straightforwardness of his playing can feel almost shocking in Chopin: the middle section of the Third Ballade, for example, didn’t hide behind lilt or tenderness and was powerful as a result.

The dreamiest music came at the end – the B-Major Nocturne and the First Ballade, and here Andsnes allowed himself to let loose. It was, especially after what had come before, utterly spellbinding.

Source: The Herald Scotland