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CD: Crotchet

Shadows of Silence
Bent SØRENSEN (b. 1958)
Lullabies (2000) [3:04]
Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994)
Piano Concerto (1987-88) [25:08]
György KURTÁG (b. 1926)
Játékok (Games) (1973-) selections: Hommage à Farkas Ferenc III (Evocation of Petrushka) [0:48]; Aus der Ferne (for Alfred Schlee’s 80th Birthday) - (A Voice in the Distance) [1:37]; Bogáncs (Thistle) [0:23]; Les Adieux (in Janáčeks Manier) [1:41]; Vízőzőn-szirénák (Sirens of the Deluge) [0:34]; Apokrif himnusz (Apocryphal Hymn) [0:55]; Hempergős (Tumble-bunny) [0:20]; Hommage à Farkas Ferenc II (Scraps of a colinda melody - faintly recollected) [1:48]
Marc-André DALBAVIE (b. 1961)
Piano Concerto (2005) [23:16]
The Shadows of Silence (2003-04) [15:57]
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Franz Welser-Möst (concertos)
rec. 16-19 May 2007, Herkulessaal der Residenz, München (concertos); 13-14 July 2007, Henry Wood Hall, London (solo works). DDD
EMI CLASSICS 2641822 [76:06] 
Experience Classicsonline

This disc is a wonderful way to showcase Leif Ove Andsnes’ pianistic talents in contemporary music; not a genre usually associated with him. It is much more than just an exercise in virtuosity, though it takes a real virtuoso to make these at times knotty works sound as spontaneous as they do here. The program is well balanced, too, beginning and ending with solo pieces by the Dane Bent Sørensen that frame two major piano concertos. Eight selections from Kurtág’s continuing series of miniature “games,” forms the disc’s midpoint. Not all the works presented are of equal quality, though. I found the two Sorensen pieces rather slight in comparison with the other works and have not completely made up my mind about Dalbavie’s Piano Concerto. There is no doubt, however, that Lutosławski’s Piano Concerto and the Kurtág Játékok selections are masterpieces that have gained a foothold in the late twentieth-century repertoire.

Of the two Sørensen works, the short Lullabies seem to me the more successful in creating a sense of nostalgia. They are based on melodies that followed the composer around and that he used in some of his other, more substantial compositions. The Shadows of Silence begins with the continuous ringing of high-pitched bells that Sørensen heard in his head after a concert of church bells. Shadows combine with the bells as the piano reaches to the lowest depths of its range and becomes increasingly louder. The work continues with quiet chords and a quasi-Romantic melody, as the pianist hums along with the music, and concludes with a recurrence of the bells. Interesting in concept, but a bit too long for its material.

The Kurtág selections “suffer” from the opposite tendency: one wishes they would go on a bit longer. Still, like Webern, they have a lot to say in a little space. There is not a single wasted note and they are very colorful. The first one presented here does indeed recall Stravinsky’s Petrushka, while some of the others evoke Kurtág’s compatriot Ligeti and remind one of his Etudes: Sirens of the Deluge. Andsnes leaves nothing to be desired in his scintillating accounts of these pieces. It would be great if he recorded more of them.

The two big works on the disc, the concertos by Dalbavie and Lutosławski could not be more different from one another. The Lutosławski has already established itself in the repertoire of a number of enterprising pianists and has received at least several fine recordings. I compared Andsnes’ performance with those by the concerto’s dedicatee Krystian Zimerman with the composer conducting (DG) and Paul Crossley with Esa-Pekka Salonen (Sony). All three pianists do real justice to the music, but approach it in individual ways. The concerto is typical late Lutosławski, where he plays down the aleatoric elements in favor of more traditional influences. Although one would not mistake the work for anyone other than the composer, there are shades of Rachmaninoff in some of the larger, Romantic gestures, Ravel in the jewel-like mechanisms, and Bartók in the bold rhythmic patterns. If anything, Zimerman brings out the Romantic elements, while Crossley invokes Ravel more. With Andsnes, on the other hand, one senses the Bartókian rhythms uppermost. Interestingly, Andsnes’ account is almost a minute faster than the other two. I do not want to over-emphasize these differences, as all three pianists are true to Lutosławski and all are partnered expertly. At the end of the day, one’s choice should rest more with the respective discs’ accompanying material. Both Zimerman and Crossley are on all-Lutosławski programs, with the former having the authoritative conducting of the composer - and a fine interpreter of his own music - while the latter has the advantage of including Dawn Upshaw’s wonderful performance of the Chantefleurs et Chantefables song cycle. For all lovers of superb pianism and fans of Andsnes, though, this performance is hard to beat.

The Dalbavie Piano Concerto took longer for me to like, and I am not sure how I would rate it among modern concertos. It was co-commissioned by the BBC Proms and the Cleveland Orchestra and premiered by its dedicatee as here. Dalbavie belongs to the compositional school, if one label it as such, of “spectralism,” a term coined by Hugues Dufourt in 1979. According to Roger Thomas’s notes in the booklet accompanying the disc, the term is “more of an attitude than a specific formula. Based on psychoacoustics, spectralism proposes a central reference point within a composition to which all other musical events occurring in the piece can be related.” Dalbavie is more concerned with the actual sounds of the instruments, their timbre, than with the notes or harmonies, themselves. After a few hearings, I found more in the work than just repeated scales and octaves, but those play a major role throughout the concerto and at times can seem too much of a good thing. Effective use of the lower brass, especially the vivid glissandi, adds needed color to the score. Only time will tell if the concerto has greater secrets to reveal. At any rate, it is doubtful that anyone could do better justice to it than Andsnes. As in the Lutosławski, Welser-Möst and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra provide expert accompaniment.

No matter how slight, or how profound, the music on this CD is, Andsnes treats it with equal respect. His virtuosity is always at the service of the composer and not the other way around. The disc is likely to appeal especially, then, to all pianophiles interested in repertoire that is somewhat off the beaten path.

Leslie Wright



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