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S & H Recital Review

Schumann & Schubert Leif Ove Andsnes (piano), Wigmore Hall, March 10th, 2004 (CC)


Andsnes clearly draws in the crowds – sold out and with a healthy queue for returns, his programme of Schumann and Schubert promised much. Interesting juxtapositions of Schumanniana in the first half prefaced one of the greatest challenges of the entire piano literature – Schubert’s great B flat Sonata, D960, a piece that is effectively a burial ground for many aspiring pianists.

The first unexpected aspect of this recital was to play the whole first half - three separate opuses plus one lone Novelette - without a break for applause (in fact, without a break even for seasonal coughing). Not that this was all massively familiar fare, either – the Three Romances and the Four Pieces that surrounded the well-known Arabeske are hardly common recital material. It did help the concentration not to have the recital sectionalised by intrusive applause – but this was hardly the revelation of the recent ABQ concert, where they presented three Webern opuses as a single quartet.

The first of the Three Romances, Op. 28 (1839) began well, with nice contrasts and good treble projection. In a pre-concert discussion, Andsnes had claimed most pianists play too loudly at the Wigmore, and his dynamic range did indeed suit the hall. Yet this was not music caught on the wing. Everything was carefully considered (some lumpy legato in the second Romance notwithstanding). There were signs of true identification coming through in the quirky, jerky, typically Schumannesque rhythms of the third Romance.

The Arabesque in C, Op. 18 (1839) was better, flighty yet intimate.

The Four Pieces, Op. 32 (1838-9) are interesting. Schumann’s idea of a ‘Romance’ here verges on the misnomer. Unfortunately, the Gigue suffered from muddying as lines accrued. The Novelette in D, Op. 21 No.5 (1838) was perhaps the finest Schumann performance of the evening, the darker shadings well projected and a left-hand melody positively Lied-like.

The Sonata in B flat, D960 is one of Schubert’s most magnificent creations. It was interesting that Andsnes identified Richter as amongst his revered pianists in the pre-concert discussion as Richter’s interpretation of this Sonata was masterly (try the Regis incarnation). But Richter could convey intense concentration, the sort that on occasion can make time stand still. Not so Andsnes. One could easily admire the invitingly warm sound of the opening and the nicely-weighted chordings. Yet the famous left-hand trill had not a shred of the ominous about it. Emphasising the disjunct side of Schubert is all very well if it comes within the umbrella of an over-arching harmonic concept, but Andsnes lost this latter aspect.

Andsnes’ failings were highlighted in the desolate Andante sostenuto. He attempted to project the bleak nature of this movement, but without the maturity to enter this very private musical world. The inevitable happened and the musical argument began to threaten to fall apart. Hardly surprisingly, the more approachable Scherzo came off better, even though any element of jollity was absent. Nice to hear the interruptive gestures of the finale with the notes played exactly together, but in the final analysis it was not hugely involving. Which just about sums up the whole performance, really.

One brief Schumann encore (from Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op. 26) led to the best of the recital – Debussy’s L’isle joyeuse, played with an aplomb that had been previously absent. There is hope yet.

Colin Clarke

This concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on June 28th at 7.30pm




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