Leif Ove Andsnes Mastery at the Wigmore Hall

His programme includes a work by the Russian composer Alexander Vustin, who died of Covid complications in 2020 at the age of 76. Unusual, too, are Dvořák’s Poetic Tone Pictures – an extended cycle of 13 pictures all with a descriptive title, composed in 1889. His younger compatriot Janáček wrote his sole piano sonata in response to the death of a young carpenter killed while demonstrating for a Czech university in Brno.

Aleksandr Vustin (1943-2020). Lamento

Leoš Janáček (1854-1928). Piano Sonata 1. X. 1905 (‘From the Street’)

Valentin Silvestrov (b.1937). Bagatelle Op. 1 No. 3

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat Op. 110


Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904). Poetic Tone Pictures Op. 85

Leif Ove Andsnes on an all too rare visit to the concert platform these days reminded us of his absolute mastery and impeccable musicianship.

We hardly dared breathe as the first part of the concert unfolded in one long line from the whispered insistent left hand lament of Aleksandr Vustin .Creating the same magic as Bartok in his ‘Night Music’ with an atmospheric haze on which arose the chiselled purity of Messianic inspired bird calls.Leading so naturally into the beautifully mellifluous outpourings of Janacek’s Sonata of 1905.
An undercurrent of menace ever present and surfacing with dramatic outbursts of foreboding.The beauty of the lament of death was with luminous sounds of great intensity ending in a mere whisper out of which grew the simplicity of Silvestrov’s innocuous little Bagatelle.
Of course this was leading to the climax of this first great arch with a performance of Beethoven’s supremely mellifluous op 110.His extraordinary mastery and masculine beauty together with a sublime sense of balance where Beethoven’s indications were revealed with scrupulous naturalness and became as if heard for the first time.
The Allegro molto was played with driving energy and the end of the treacherous trio just drifted into oblivion as the Allegro was allowed to return.The silences too between the movements were pregnant with suspense as he placed the opening notes of the Adagio with heart rending perfection.

There was an underlying menace that he brought out too in the counterpoints under the sublime arioso with the whispered return of the inverted fugue that gradually arose out of the depths to the febrile joy on high.A final flourish of such force that needed some extra Beethovenian weaving between hands to produce the sumptuous richness of sublimation desired,
Not since the early appearances of Pollini have we heard such musicianly perfection.
Mastery and perfection brought the little known 13 Poetic Tone Pictures op 85 by Dvorak vividly to life.
What a wonderful collection of pieces,each one a miniature tone poem played with such imagination and colour.
Cascades of notes just flowed from his fingers like gold dust in Night Journey and what scintillating old style virtuosity in Joking.He brought contemplation and atmosphere to the Old Castle and the flowing melodic line of the Spring Song ended with deliciously subtle charm.
The frenzy of the Peasant’s Balllad was followed by a Reverie that flowed like a Mendelssohn Song without Words with an accompaniment of supreme delicacy.
Furiant indeed were the double octaves before the music box of the Goblins.The languid melodic line of the Serenade was greeted by the whispered energy of Bacchanalia.Tittle-tattle was indeed just that with such vivid story telling and there was bleak nobility in the Hero’s grave.And finally cascades of sumptuous notes accompanied the melodic line at the holy mountain.

What a discovery with an hour of music where time stood still as he held the audience in the palm of his hand with a voyage of discovery of works I have never heard in the concert hall before.
I know that the Dvorak Piano Concerto is a notoriously difficult work that Richter with Kleiber recorded many years ago.Rudolf Firkusny made a point of delving into the works of Czech composers and he too recorded the Dvorak Concerto with George Szell even before Richter.
But never could I have expected a discovery as today.
I had looked at Pletnev’s programme this year in Perugia of Brahms Intermezzi alternating with the Dvorak op.85 and thought it to be one of the eccentricities of a pianist who is infamously unpredictable.
But listening today to these 13 beautiful pieces I certainly hope they will be included in the future programmes of other pianists not only the sometimes genial Pletnev
An encore of a savage dance by a Russian composer whose name I did not catch built up to an enormous climax of sumptuous sounds and brought the audience to their feet.

Leif’s wooden stick with the piano open more than usual

Interesting to note that he has a specially made stick to hold the piano lid up higher than usual which obviously gives more resonance to the sound.In fact it was his mastery of tone production that was so noticeable today


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