Leif Ove Andsnes Explores Sibelius

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Much of the publicity surrounding Leif Ove Andsnes’ Sony Classical recital of piano works by Sibelius implies that this music was essentially unknown before Andsnes took up the cause. Not true, of course, but the music tends to be neglected, mostly due to the fact that much of Sibelius’ keyboard output represents crumbs from the master symphonist’s table: ephemeral occasional pieces, utilitarian salon fare, quickie knock-offs for amateurs to play at home, and so forth. Andsnes, however, has carefully perused the oeuvre and come up with a well-balanced program of fascinating treasures.

The opening Impromptu in B minor Op. 5 No. 5’s flickering descending arpeggios immediately beckon your attention, while the E major Op. 5 No. 6, by contrast, is more of a brooding nocturne. Both music and pianistic substance prevail throughout the Op. 41 Kyllikki tryptich of lyric pieces, where Andsnes’ colorfully intense shaping of the first selection’s tumultuous central section contrasts to his light fingerwork in the final piece. In Andsnes’ knowing hands, the Andantino’s central climax with interlocking octaves sounds organic and inevitable, rather than like a sudden virtuosic outburst.

If excerpts from the Op. 24 and Op. 75 groups showcase Sibelius’ extroverted yet controlled Romanticism, the Sonatina No. 1 and Second Rondino evoke the reserve and harmonic ambiguity that often typify the composer’s Sixth and Seventh symphonies. While I appreciate Olli Mustonen’s fastidious detached articulation and rhythmic acuity in the Rondino, Andsnes’ comparable yet less self-aware pianism yields a faster and more fluid interpretation. Andsnes admits to fleshing out the rather limited textural keyboard dimensions of Sibelius’ Valse Triste arrangement, and he does so with taste and discrimination. One wonders if Andsnes’ increased activity as a pianist/conductor subliminally or intentionally informs his full-bodied sonority and arching melodic projection in the late-period Op. 114 Esquisses.

In short, this release amounts to a compelling overview of Sibelius at his pianistic best, and further benefits from lifelike sonics and Andrew Mellor’s insightfully informative annotations. However, collectors seeking a complete set of Sibelius’ original piano works are directed to another Sony Classical release, a 2016 five-disc collection featuring pianist Janne Mertanen. It’s a pity that the label chose not to market these imaginative, vividly characterized interpretations in the United States.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Sibelius Piano Music Selections: This one; Mustonen (Ondine), Sibelius Piano Music Complete: Mertanen (Sony); Tawaststjerna (BIS)

  • Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)

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