I think it is the great forgotten cycle of 19th-century piano music. Maybe those are big words, but I do feel that,” says the pianist of Dvořák’s Poetic Tone Pictures. The most substantial piano collection by the Czech Romantic composer, this is the subject of Andsnes’s newest recording for Sony Classical, due for physical and digital release on October 28. The seldom-programmed Poetic Tone Pictures show a very different side of the composer best-known for his symphonies and string quartets. Describing the set as “prime-time Dvořák,” Andsnes explains:

“It’s a real discovery for me. It’s a major piano cycle of 13 pieces that’s rarely performed, even though it’s very imaginative, is full of melodic and harmonic inventions, and offers surprisingly colorful writing for the piano. Although Dvořák was not a pianist-composer, he uses the full range of the instrument convincingly.”

Composed in spring 1889, Dvořák’s cycle comprises 13 little-known gems that signal a stylistic shift away from the formal constructions of his earlier instrumental writing towards a freer, more programmatic aesthetic. Ranging in mood from profound to playful, they include evocations of magic and mystery (“The Old Castle”), rustic dances (“Furiant” and “Peasant Ballad”), nostalgic mood pieces (‘Twilight Way”), and a solemn reminiscence (“At a Hero’s Grave”). As Andsnes discovered, Dvořák intended the set to be played complete, writing to a friend: “Regrettably, precious few pianists will have the courage to play them all one after another, but only thus can the listener form the right picture of what I had in mind.” When he first approached the cycle, for a competition at the age of twelve, Andsnes himself only performed selections, and it was not until the recent pandemic lockdowns that he delved deeper into the Poetic Tone Pictures and committed to performing and recording the set in its entirety. He says: “It feels exciting to take Dvořák at his word, and I think he is absolutely right. I feel a very strong, wonderful narrative in the work. It’s a cycle of many stories but it also feels like one big story.”

An exclusive Sony Classical artist, Andsnes is a Gramophone Hall of Fame inductee whose discography has already been recognized with six Gramophone Awards, eleven Grammy nominations, and BBC Music magazine’s “Recording of the Year.” His two most recent solo titles were Chopin: Ballades & Nocturnes – an International Classical Music Award nominee that was named one of the “Best Classical Albums of 2018” (WQXR)  – and Leif Ove Andsnes: Sibelius, a Gramophone “Editor’s Choice” that broke the top ten on Billboard’s traditional classical chart and reached number two in France; as The Guardian put it: “You feel a door to Sibelius’s mysterious world has been unlocked. And the playing is beautiful.”

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