Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Insights into Beethoven from a great musician

This fine documentary film on DVD by Phil Grabsky presents Leif Ove Andsnes's epic Beethoven obsession, spread over four years and 150 performances in many cities. As he says: "a multi-season project that will make the composer’s music the centerpiece of my life as a performer and recording artist." It began like this:
I was on tour in Sao Paulo a few years ago, and when I checked into the hotel I realised that in the lifts they were playing a CD of Beethoven’s first and second piano concertos in a loop, the whole week. I thought that after two days this would make me absolutely mad. But the opposite happened, and I realized that listening to 37 seconds of these pieces each time I entered the life was quite wonderful, because I could just hear *that* bit. I thought ‘Oh, how beautiful, how original and how strange that is, how fresh and how different from any other music.’ And I thought, ‘Now is the time for me to tackle that, now is the time for me to do Beethoven.’
Watching Andsnes playing the piano and conducting the superb Mahler Chamber Orchestra in this sublime music is a great experience, though it does leave one wishing for the entire performances on video. I hope they'll be issued on DVD and Blu-ray soon. There are many times when Andsnes presents an idea in a very simple and straight-forward way, but the results are incredibly insightful and beautiful. One example is when he explains the significance of the cadenza near the end of Concerto no. 3, and moves to the ethereal transition from solo piano to piano and orchestra. I was transfixed! Here, and in his entire Beethoven Journey, Andsnes' hard work and commitment join with his amazing natural talent as a musician, with outstanding results.

The audio version of the five concertos plus the Choral Fantasy is available on three individual CD, or packaged together as a box set. I have one issue with the DVD, and I'm afraid it's a bit more than a quibble. Everything Andsnes says is so astute and penetrating, and you don't want to miss a thing. But he's very soft-spoken, and his voice is mixed at such a low level that when the piano and orchestra from the recording sequences come in the neighbours are apt to pound on the walls or ceiling. This film was made for theatrical release, and in a theatre with the right acoustics it might have been fine, but even trying different equalization settings on my system I was still straining to hear Andsnes while the orchestra was at the very high end of the comfortable listening range. Luckily there's the option to add subtitles (in English or Norwegian), so I didn't end up missing too much. This is an inconvenience, but not enough to cost this superb film a star; it still gets all five!

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