Prom 9: Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Andsnes review – big, passionate Beethoven

Royal Albert Hall, London
Leif Ove Andsnes starts the final leg of his four-year ‘Beethoven journey’ with a startlingly fresh interpretation of the First and Fourth Piano Concertos, backed with instinctive intensity by the orchestra

Leif Ove Andsnes’s three Proms with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra mark the close of his “Beethoven journey”, a four-year tour to some 55 venues, during which he has been playing – and directing from the keyboard – the five piano concertos and the Choral Fantasia. The full measure of his achievement won’t, perhaps, be apparent until the cycle closes on Sunday with the Emperor, a formidably difficult work to perform without a conductor.

But the opening concert, containing the First and Fourth Concertos, gave us Beethoven of the highest quality.

We were conscious from the outset of being in the presence of an enthusiast, the freshness of whose playing was startling. Andsnes’s Beethoven is big, forthright, passionate. The relationship between soloist and orchestra, he argues, “can feel like a bit like a musical battleground”, and he really brought home the music’s grandeur, drama and emotional volatility.

The greater revelations came, perhaps, with the First, sometimes done retro as if it were by Haydn, but here given an epic loftiness that contained, in embryo, the gathering maturity of the whole sequence.

The poetic intensity of the Fourth, with its quiet infractions of form and tradition, was superbly realised in the strength and detail of Andsnes’s playing, and the instinctual familiarity the Mahler Chamber Orchestra clearly feels for this music.

Beethoven shares the programme, however, with Stravinsky, also performed conductor-less, and the challenges of his 1928 ballet Apollon Musagète, directed by leader Matthew Truscott, were more variably met. The string sound was deep and rich where some might prefer more neoclassical leanness and asperity. Some of the variations in the central divertissement could have done with a bit more spring in their step. The closing apotheosis was ravishing.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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