This was Norway’s moment in the limelight: no surprise to find its indefatigable music ambassador - pianist Leif Ove Andnes - leading the charge, attended by the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. And if the novelty they brought with them was created by a Dane, it had at least been inspired by Andsnes.
Bent Sorensen had already composed for him, but it seems one particular evening blew the composer’s mind. First he heard Andsnes play a Mozart concerto, then they repaired to a piano bar where he played Busoni’s transcription of a Bach chorale. Andsnes, he said later, seemed to be ‘playing something from the abyss that floats upwards and in the end becomes a halo over our heads’. A concerto began to take shape in his mind, and he started writing it the next morning – hence its title, ‘La mattina’. It begins, as he puts it, ‘with eyes tight shut’, and ends ‘with eyes wide open’.
Initially Andsnes seemed to ruminate very softly and deep in the bass, allowing fragments of the Bach chorale to surface shyly. When the orchestra joined in, it was just as soft and suggestive, then piano and orchestra set off on a journey which held the attention every step of the way. It was all about textures, including some novel ones created by half the orchestra playing claves – Latin-American wooden percussion sticks – and humming from time to time. At some points the strings sounded very sweet, at others, jagged; the piano developed its own delicate embroidery, but until the liberated finale, everything came in shades of pianissimo. Sorensen’s voice stands out by virtue of the fact that his goal is a these days unusual quality, beauty.
But this concert was also a shop-window for the orchestra and its leader Isabelle van Keulen. They gave a pleasant if unremarkable account of Mozart’s ‘Haffner’ Symphony, but a very engaging one of Grieg’s ‘Holberg Suite’, for which the violinists and violists huddled together like strolling minstrels. But this was Andsnes’s night par excellence: it closed with him conducting Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 24 from the keyboard, and following that with the finale of another Mozart concerto. No other pianist combines these two roles with such charming aplomb.