After weeks of excessive Mahler, few performances could have drawn as much contrast as the solo recital from Leif Ove Andsnes at the Walt Disney Concert Hall last night. Andsnes is a very familiar face here in Southern California having made regular appearances with the L.A. Philharmonic. And he’ll cozy up to local audiences even more this June when he comes to this year’s Ojai Music Festival as the guest Music Director. His recital on Tuesday was enough to stoke excitement for that upcoming assignment. And while it was not long on recent music, the evening featured the polished, understated playing and clear-headed interpretations that make him so beloved here.
Probably the least endearing part of the evening was the introduction, Haydn’s Sonata in C minor. Compared to the works that followed, this is a rather restrained piece, and Andsnes while technically proficient gave the sonata a machine like quality. Not that it was perfunctory, but overly planned out, unfolding in a way that was predetermined. The temperature soon warmed, though, as that same subdued approach made Bartok’s Suite for Piano, Op. 14. Here the percussive and rhythmic elements typical of 20th-century music made for some brilliant musicality.
But the evening really came into its own with the more impressionistic and Romantic works that made up the rest of the program. The first book of Debussy’s Images was startlingly lush. Andsnes maintained the rather soft hues of the composer’s palette refusing to overstate any of this music and keeping it light but deeply moving at the same time. The second half of the show was composed entirely of Chopin: Four Waltzes, Ballade No. 3 in A-flat minor, Nocturne in B major, and Ballade No.1 in G minor. These are all beautiful, singing, self-contained pieces whether they are plaintive or caught in a flurry of virtuosic speed. Again Andsnes displayed flexibility allowing each work to breath without crushing them into grand or overstated gestures. There was no need to grab the spotlight away from anyone or anything here; and articulate, relaxed playing won the day. Start planning for the summer in Ojai now.