double play

Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No 3 / Etudes-tableaux Leif Ove Andsnes / Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra / Berglund (Virgin 545173 2); 'It's a very Nordic-sounding performance. The tone of it is challenging, hardy' 'Andsnes shapes Rachmaninov's long tunes with grace. But the spark of the "live" event is missing'
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First impressions: Andsnes plays it pale and interesting in the opening solo. Cool, composed, a shade remote. It keeps you guessing. How deep can still waters run? His fluid lyric style - an entirely natural way with tempo-rubato - comes into its own with the second subject. No question about this player getting in the way: each phrase finds its own space, the music leads, he follows. The technique is so clean, inner voicings so clear. But this coolness - I'll go further - this steely resolve, prevails.

Rachmaninov, the melancholic, broods. And Andsnes and Berglund indulge him. It's a very Nordic-sounding performance - and that's not a judgement idly made on the strength of this being an all-Scandinavian team. The tone of it is challenging, hardy. It's the darker, mysterious hues you remember - the sneer of stopped horns (creepily re-echoing the opening undulations at one point), the oration for solo horns and trombones in the slow movement. And the harmonic ambiguities: the strangeness of that passage leading us up to Rachmaninov's mighty cadenza (Andsnes, true to character, elects to give us the bigger and braver original). And even that is made of sterner stuff than is customary. So, hackneyed it is not. But, like it or not, it's all of a piece - there's a wholeness, an inevitability, an organic feel to the performance. It doesn't play to the gallery, it doesn't seek to impress. But then again, how often do we emerge from the finale remembering the rustling, regretful, autumnal music at its heart over and above its barnstorming theatrics? Andsnes is certainly equipped to play Rachmaninov at his own game in those passages, but chooses not to, eschewing the impulsive, heat-seeking gestures in favour of something more deliberate, measured, understated - in tempo and spirit. Even the big tune aspires to something more than the traditional Hollywood gush, something sadder and wiser - and ultimately defiant. It takes a bit of getting used to. The choice of Etudes-tableaux is entirely in keeping with Andsnes's view of the concerto. The last, in E flat major, turns quietly in on itself, a chilling reminder of how differently the concerto might have turned out.


classical music