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Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos.2 & 4
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Concertos pour piano 2 & 4
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano & direction
Voici donc le nouveau volume de cette intégrale des Concertos de Beethoven par le magnifique pianiste norvégien Leif Ove Andsnes ; il est toujours le soliste et le chef du Mahler Chamber Orchestra, avec lequel il s'est produit la saison passée avec grand succès au Théâtre des Champs Elysées.
A cette occasion Libération avait consacré 2 belles pages en Mars 2013 à l'artiste et à son projet Beethoven :
« . s'il fait penser à Sviatoslav Richter pour sa hauteur de vue, son contrôle magistral de tous les paramètres, Andsnes sonne désormais plus souple et élégant et évoque autant Arturo Michelangeli et Dinu Lipati »
De telles références se passent naturellement de commentaire.
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Dès l’introduction du second concerto on a compris qu’il y a une conception bien dans l’air du temps: « ma perspective est chambriste, j’ai entendu ce que cela donne avec un pianoforte et le souci de l’authenticité est passé par là ». Pourquoi pas ? A part un côté un peu démonstratif (« vous l’avez entendu, ce motif, comme il était joué sans vibrato ?», demande le pupitre de violons au premier rang du public en lui adressant un clin d’oeil complice), le Mahler Chamber Orchestra, élégant et agile, fait bien ce qu’il a choisi de faire dans cette œuvre avec les moyens du bord, même si on peut aimer des cordes moins grêles.
La conception du soliste, elle, ne marque pas spécialement, même si la réalisation est très fine. Auteur d’un bon disque de concertos de Haydn chez Emi, convaincant dans la cadence du premier mouvement, Andsnes joue le second de Beethoven comme si ce dernier était un jeune homme très, très poli qui remercie ses professeurs pour tout ce qu’ils lui ont appris et qu’il se gardera bien d’oublier.Lire la suite ›
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Here with with the 2nd and 4th concerti we get a rehash of the same ideas laid out in the last release. There's the same elegance and air of devotion and sophistication. Andsnes never plays a harsh note, and his touch is supple and natural, if leaning on the cool side. Specifically, he isn't prone to display anything superficial, and he relies on a tone that feels modest and almost understated. One feels Andsnes is intentionally playing using only a fraction of his total energy, holding back a superhuman technique.
I think this impression reflects the general approach Andsnes has favored in his Beethoven, one that aims for poise and professionalism. There is a modern trend to avoid romantic overstatement in Beethoven, and Andsnes clearly seems aligned with this view. To his credit, Andsnes pulls it off with remarkable skill. Every bar is carefully molded with near-delicacy, but it truly sounds natural. I don't hear anything self-conscious; everything sounds genuine.
Of course Andsnes is conducting from the piano, and his conducting shares many qualities of his playing. Andsnes seems to work hard to make an environment that is both chamber-like and full-sounding, and his efforts certainly pay off. There are definite HIP elements in the phrasing, though always subtle and nuanced. It goes to show how far the authentic movement has come. Here is playing that is balanced with sensibility that keeps anything eccentric held firmly at bay.
I wish I could stand and cheer, because Andsnes' efforts are clearly worthy, and this comes in an age when greatness in Beethoven is excruciatingly difficult to achieve. But I simply wish for more energy, more action where Andsnes is focusing on sounding perfect. This is music that has much more novelty and sparkle than Andsnes cares to disclose. Especially in the 4th Concerto, I wish for more grandeur, even passion. Some of the very elements Andsnes carefully filters out are the same ones I think give these masterpieces their significance. Yet Andsnes has achieved what he is aiming for, and if that's your style, this is cultured musicianship with no apology. I think it falls short of greatness, but all the same, I have no problem admiring Andsnes' talent, which is considerable. Couldn't he let go just a bit more?
I was astounded by the Third Concerto in Andsnes's previous release in this series, and if this disc didn't make quite as strong an impression that might be because I'm a bit more familiar with the Fourth than I was with the Third. Here again (as in the 1/3 pairing), we have an early concerto and one from the very different sound-world of Beethoven's "middle" period. The Second is charmingly done, and it sets up the bolder and odder Fourth beautifully. The first movement of the Fourth introduces a relation between piano and orchestra that is something of an agon, a contest, and that becomes clearer in subsequent movements, with the pianist asserting his own way against the orchestra as much as he is co-operating with it. Andsnes's playing is remarkably lucid and clear, with considerable dynamic variety and playful tweaking of phrase, all of that coming to a head in the quite long cadenza (Beethoven's own) that is played with remarkable richness of tone, phrase, and texture here. The lead-back into the orchestra is very nicely handled, and the coda is weighty and forceful. Those reviewers who feel this performance is too small-scaled are just wrong, I think -- sure, a chamber orchestra isn't the Concertgebouw, but there's plenty of force when needed (from the pianist too) and at other times a winning textual clarity and lovely piano tone, beside which the excellent Perahia, more closely recorded, can sound a bit glassy.
The second movement is one of Beethoven's oddest and shortest. I think of it as the one where the orchestra tries to assert itself weightily against the piano and fails, because the piano won't give up its relatively quiet insistence. It also functions as the lead in to the third movement, which is a total charmer, with a springing main theme that the piano ends up "stealing" from the orchestra. There's another fine cadenza here, which Andsnes dispatches magically, and the final dash for the finish is playful and exciting. All in all, you won't be disappointed with this disc. The balance is excellent, and the piano tone is getting up there with Kissin's in his great recordings of the Second and Fifth Concertos with Levine.
So it is with this second album in a series titled Beethoven's Journey, which begins with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat major, Op. 19, written around 1788 but not published in final form until 1795, with another finale written in 1801. Whatever, it's relatively early Beethoven (1770-1827), and he hadn't yet quite found his own voice. Therefore, it's still a somewhat Classical rather than Romantic piece. Beethoven seemed mainly interested in the music as a showcase for his own virtuosic piano playing. It's a playful work in typical three-movement concerto form, although there is a rather lengthy introduction before the piano's introduction.
Andsnes's approach is one of graceful lines and cultured elegance. It's virtuosic, to be sure, yet sweet and lyrical, too, the pianist slowing down just enough for one to appreciate every note. Andsnes doesn't pack the electric charge of some of his rivals, yet his playing is so tasteful it always commands one's attention. Oddly, he takes the slow middle movement a tad faster than one usually hears it. There's no harm done, and it does seem a little less dreamy and sentimental than it can sometimes sound. Certainly, there is not a whiff of that here, which may or may not please everyone. The concluding Molto Allegro is appropriately amusing in a Mozartian mold and never succumbs to freneticism. Andsnes keeps the lightheartedness under control while still making things highly entertaining, and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which he also directs, plays wonderfully.
By the time the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 premiered in 1808 Beethoven had matured considerably as a composer and had established his own voice. It is more complex, more rhythmic, moodier, filled with more surprises. Here, Andsnes is always tasteful, from the suave simplicity of the work's introduction to its ultra-calm craftsmanship. Yet for all its Romanticism, the work never sounds entirely Romantic but adheres to its neoclassical roots with a admirable power and precision. In the slow movement Andsnes communicates a commendably weighty darkness, leading seamlessly into the more-boisterous finale, which Andsnes also takes with perhaps more seriousness than some other pianists. Nevertheless, Andsnes is careful to end the affair on a triumphant note, and all's well that ends well.
So, where does that leave us? Although Andsnes's more-relaxed style doesn't exactly make waves among the established Beethoven recordings from Kovacevich (Philips), Perahia (Sony), Ashkenazy (Decca), Brendel (Philips), Serkin (Telarc), Gilels (EMI), Kempff (DG), Schiff (Warner), and the like, he won't disappoint his fans. These may not be the most-electrifying performances on record, but they are satisfying in their own, more low-key manner.
The sound is typical of what we've been getting from Sony in the past few years: very clean, very clear, moderately close-up, with a bit less depth, dimensionality, and room resonance than one might desire. It makes for a comfortable listening experience if not always an ultimately realistic one for audiences seeking a concert-hall sound.
John J. Puccio