Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Andsnes – music-making of exceptional quality

Royal Albert Hall, London

The Norwegian pianist brought his Beethoven project to a triumphant close with flawless, sensitive performances of the second and fifth piano concertos

Though published later than his official First Piano Concerto, Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto was written before it, while his Fifth – the so-called Emperor Concerto – turned out to be his last. In this Prom, which concluded their world tour of all of Beethoven’s major works for piano and orchestra, the Norwegian pianist/director Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra thus combined the canonical beginning of Beethoven’s creativity in the genre with its end.

The quality of music-making was exceptionally high. Over the four years during which they have been engaged upon this project, orchestral players and soloist have clearly honed not only their individual performances but also their acutely sensitive responses towards each other’s momentary needs. Balance and ensemble were uniformly excellent; solo passages dovetailed flawlessly into accompaniments.

Andsnes’s pianism was distinguished. His finger-work was impeccable, while equally authoritative was his ability to maintain the music’s tonal quality and shape while effortlessly steering his way around some technically awkward corners in the B-flat concerto, as well as the far more virtuosic writing encountered in the Emperor.

The scale of his playing, meanwhile, matched both the gracefully Mozartian Second Concerto and the energetic grandeur of the Fifth – a work whose bold and heroic manner inspired a notable sequence of great piano concertos throughout the entire Romantic era.

Stravinsky has been Beethoven’s constant companion in this Proms mini-series. Here members of the MCO began the programme with a spick-and-span rendition of the bright and breezy Octet, an alternately boisterous and thoughtful piece from the early years of the Russian composer’s neoclassical period. Its light, opera buffa manner made it the perfect introduction to Beethoven’s early concerto, and from its first notes onwards the evening never looked back.

• On iPlayer until 25 August. The Proms continue until 12 September.


George Hall

The GuardianTramp

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