Having recently distinguished himself in Brahms' First Piano Concerto and in a recital of characteristic solo piano music by his own countrymen, Norwegian virtuoso Leif Ove Andsnes now turns his attention to the Classical repertoire, and with equivalent success. Comparatively speaking, Haydn's sonatas are somewhat neglected; as a whole, they are hardly less important than Mozart's, and their plain-spoken sentiments remind me of Beethoven's works in this genre.
First, Andsnes and producer Tony Harrison have been good about selecting five well-contrasted sonatas, although the emphasis is on drama and weight, given the choice of the B Minor and C sharp Minor sonatas. This is a program that can be heard straight through, with no need for pauses for the brain and ear to refresh themselves.
Andsnes chooses to play this music in a highly articulated, Classical style, but without exaggeration or archness. Every note can be heard, and every note is given its full weight. Similarly, his tempos, while usually brisk, never call attention to themselves. Fast movements have an appropriate brilliance and excitement, and slow movements sing with a simple and unaffected charm. At the same time, this playing has an energy, even an intellectual curiosity of sorts, that are typical of a young man, and of this young man in particular. Alfred Brendel's 4-CD set of Haydn sonatas (now apparently deleted, although selections from it are available in the "Great Pianists of the 20th Century" series) has long been a standard in this repertoire. While Brendel's views are hardly those of an elder statesman, his playing is more sober and traditional than Andsnes's. Whether one prefers Brendel or Andsnes is a matter of taste; it is good to have both of them on CD.
Andsnes plays a beautiful Bösendorfer piano on this recording, which was made in EMI's famous Abbey Road Studios in London. (The last sonata listed above was recorded in a church in Oslo.) The engineers have found a rich, balanced sound for the piano.
Leif Ove Andsnes is a major artist. If you haven't heard him yet, please try this CD, or one of the others mentioned above. His Grieg Piano Concerto is another wonderful recording.
Copyright © 1999, Raymond Tuttle