Few pianists today have the kind of long-term recording contract (recently extended for another seven years) that Leif Ove Andsnes enjoys. Somebody must like him, then, but it really is hard to understand why he is so highly regarded.
At the Wigmore Hall Andsnes played Schumann and Schubert, both of them indifferently, without any hint as to why he had chosen the works he had, or why the composers were significant to him. The second half was given over to Schubert's B flat Sonata: at one time a performance of the work was a special event, but nowadays it appears on recital programmes with wearying regularity, as if it has become a test piece for every pianist keen to show his musical profundity. If that was Andsnes's intention (probably not, to be fair, as he is partway through a Schubert series for EMI) then he failed the examination, for this was a performance of studied ordinariness, without any spaciousness or instinctive sense of harmonic colour. The first movement gave no hint that this was to be an epic journey; the Andante had no poise; the most successful element was the scherzo, rattled off expertly and actually enhanced by Andsnes's rather shallow piano tone rather than diminished.
A sequence of Schumann pieces came first. Only one of them, the Op 18 Arabesque, is anything like a repertory work, and it was certainly good to hear in the concert hall rarities like the Three Romances Op 28 and the Four Pieces Op 32, particularly from a pianist whose technical command is never in doubt. Yet much of the playing was still bland. If, as Andsnes did, such a sequence is run together with barely a pause between the items, then the playing needs a much sharper profile, much more specific characterisation. The outlines were sleek enough, the detail was just never interesting.