reviews Leif Ove’s New York recital at Carnegie Hall

“… Mr. Andsnes worked the Steinway like it was a Stradivarius, with virtually no space between the notes. Pianos don’t do glissandi, but Mr. Andsnes gave these the effect of a violin melody. And while trying to recover from this finger-perfect sweet and gentle Beethoven, we found ourselves adjusting to Beethoven’s Black Hole of a mind. The Opus 101 A Major Sonata was the Beethoven who had not graduated from his earlier days, but had found a greater depth. Mr. Andsnes didn’t even try to explore this mind. The notes said it all. The opening was played with a springy airiness before the main themes. The march was sprightly, not quite serious.

The final two movements made their own journey. For Mr. Andsnes didn’t play the introduction as a transition to the finale, but gave it a heaviness which led to this Allegro climax. With other pianists, one could note the themes, wait for an academic self-conscious fugue, relish the victory. With Mr. Andsnes, the movement was such a complete entity, that the fugue didn’t seem like a classroom exercise: the counterpoint was an integral part of his straightforward performance. It was cool, not a personal triumph for the pianist, but a very personal one for the composer.

The early Variations were pure delight. Like a 21st Century physicist playing around with equations on a blackboard, Beethoven let his mind wander, take flight, go back to earth, tell a riddle or two and finish with the usual bang. The usual tormented picture of the composer is nowhere to be found.

Finally, the great 23rd Sonata, played here just last week with Murray Perahia. Mr. Perahia performed it as an angry, shattering, highly emotional effort. Mr. Andsnes started even softer than Mr. Perahia, and the following excitement, while no less emotional, was far more pianistic. One didn’t feel that Beethoven was falling off his seat when banging the chords. It was just as loud, the finale was just as quick. But Mr. Andsnes retained the emotion of the piano rather than the personal emotion of the composer.

This was energy, yes–and the final Presto was as fast as I’ve ever heard it. But Mr. Andsnes didn’t send his body flying with the fingers. Like his entire demeanor, he was controlled, there was never even the hint of a blur or extra pedal. It was…well, Beethoven as the composer, not the mythological giant …

Perfection itself is apt to be dull, over-emotion is ephemeral. Leif Ove Andsnes was technically perfect, and the emotional import was balanced with the pure musical significance. The result was a recital that lasts much much longer than the final ravishing chord.”