The End of the Beethoven Journey
“After 55 cities, 22 countries, four years and three CDs, there was perhaps only one place for Leif Ove Andsnes’s “Beethoven Journey” with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra to come to an end: with the Emperor Concerto in front of 6,000 people in the Albert Hall …”
Thus the Daily Telegraph’s review summed up what has been an amazing journey which ended Sunday 26 July at the Proms in Royal Albert Hall in London. The 6000 strong audience rose to its feet – clapped, cheered and stamped their feet.
Also reviewing the final concert The Guardian wrote:
– The Norwegian pianist brought his Beethoven project to a triumphant close with flawless, sensitive performances of the second and fifth piano concertos
– 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.”
After the last concert of my four year Beethoven Journey, I am quite exhausted, but more importantly I feel so grateful for all the moments of happiness on stage with Mahler Chamber Orchestra. My dreams and vision for this journey have been fulfilled, and yesterday’s performance was for me another confirmation of that. I don’t know when next I can expect such an intense musical communication with an orchestra. Thank you, dear MCO-musicians!
Stiftelsen Kristian Gerhard Jebsen was the Primary Cycle Sponsor of the 4 years long Beethoven Journey of Leif Ove Andsnes og Mahler Chamber Orchestra.
‘CONCERTO – A BEETHOVEN JOURNEY’
The award-winning documentary film-maker Phil Grabsky has immortalized the Beethoven Journey in the forthcoming film ‘CONCERTO – A BEETHOVEN JOURNEY’ – WORLDWIDE RELEASE FROM SEPTEMBER:
Phil Grabsky is recognised for his ability to bring extraordinary vitality to the filming of orchestral music. More information from seventh-art.com.
Highlights of reviews from the three performances in Royal Albert Hall
Prom performance no. 3 (26 July)
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.
The synergy between orchestra and soloist, by now so familiar with the music and with each other, allowed fresh details to emerge (in Piano Concerto no. 2) … If it is the job of a critic to criticise I am in trouble: there was nothing about this performance I didn’t like.
The Arts Desk
Prom performance no. 2 (24 July)
Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra have spent four years with Beethoven’s piano concertos, tracing their development from the Mozartian fizz of the first to the vaulting beauty of the fifth, together with the Choral Fantasy. In the penultimate performance of a project in which they have performed these works together in 55 venues, the intimacy of their connection to the music was felt in every note. The wit of the Stravinsky, with its delicious riffs for clarinet, bassoon and flute, its perky pizzicato and its courtly trills, carried through to Andsnes’s period-inflected reading of the concerto. The sforzandi of the opening movement were pleasingly shaped, the largo was elegant and grave, the rondo agile.
“Forthright rhythms and a sense of deep wonder characterised Andsnes’s playing and direction (of the Choral Fantasy) in a performance in which even the softest entries from the cellos and basses were brilliantly pointed.
The epic journey through Beethoven’s five piano concertos from Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra got off to a flying start on Thursday, with a five-star review from my colleague Geoffrey Norris. This second instalment was no less fine, and very different in feeling. What this concert gave us was the aspirational Beethoven: the man who wanted to wrap all humanity in one embrace. That came in his so-called “Choral Fantasy” for piano, orchestra and chorus. Before that, in the concert’s first half, we heard the stern military grandeur of the 3rd Piano Concerto, leavened here and there by a lovely sunny classical lyricism, and the occasional witty moment in the finale.
With the piano nestling in the middle of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, traditional ideas of the concerto as a contest between the forces were completely dispelled. Everyone here was on the same page, playing together with one mind. Facing not the most technically challenging of concertos, Andsnes was freed up to give attention to shaping the orchestral textures through conducting, or giving a lead through his quicksilver playing. There was a wealth of detail in the syncopated accents of the opening tutti, and he maintained the impetus throughout, up to the helter-skelter coda. There were some wonderful moments of dialogue between piano and cellos, and between piano and bassoon (Peter Whelan) which spoke of the pleasure that all involved were finding in the music.
When Andsnes returned to play and direct the concluding Choral Fantasy, the presence of the BBC Singers may well have galvanised pianist and orchestra to an even freer and more spontaneous performance than earlier and lent exuberance to this hybrid work which was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish and carried the concert to its triumphant conclusion through enthusiasm and collective spirit.
Beethoven with drama and drive
The highlight of this varied programme was Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, the darkest and most turbulent of his five concertos and often given a grand and romantic interpretation. Refreshingly, however, Andsnes prefers a more classical approach, bringing out the inner drama of Beethoven’s music through a precise and sincere reading of the score. One could say there is a purity and clarity in his playing, without any additives or artificial colouring. And by directing from the keyboard himself, he is able to share this aesthetic with the musicians of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, who respond to his playing at every turn with similar clarity and warmth. One characteristic he and the orchestra have in common is that they never force the flow of the music but find it from within, and this is why this partnership has been so successful.
The solo passages were crisply played with superb control and an evenness of tone in the runs and flourishes – and his trills were just spellbinding. In the second movement, he transported us to a far away, spiritual place, creating magical intimacy in his solos, especially at the desolate ending of the cadenza. In contrast, the Rondo finale was lively and buoyant, and the music flowed seamlessly between the rondo theme and the contrasting episodes. Andsnes switched effortlessly between his roles as conductor, soloist and chamber musician, and clearly he was enjoying being part of the orchestra. It was evident from this performance (and from the other two concerts of the cycle I attended) that in the course of this “Beethoven Journey”, Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra have raised the conductorless performances of Beethoven concertos to a new level.
Proms performance no. 1 (23 July)
The full measure of his (Andsnes’) 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.
Together they gave utterly absorbing performances that were a testament to the strength and subtlety of Andsnes’s interpretative stance in this music and an unequivocal vindication of his decision to direct all the concertos from the keyboard.
The Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s clean sound and tight articulation (in Concerto no. 1) heard the staccatos of the opening section double back from the back the Royal Albert Hall. The ensemble’s phrasing popped with crisp definition, and with Andsnes and his piano tucked closely into the orchestra, transitions into tender solo passages were smooth and unfussy … There was an optimism on display, which carried into more melodramatic episodes, such as in the first movement of the third concerto in C minor. And an immense energy was shared between the pianist and the orchestra, who between them brought the movement to a roaring end …
This was organic Beethoven, sounding spontaneous (but honed), with Beethoven’s own cadenzas. Unfussy and to the point in his conducting, with open hands that seemed to gather the members of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra even closer, Andsnes has always been a clear and direct performer at the keyboard: one of those musicians that likes the music to be the focal point. A packed Royal Albert Hall was clearly aware of the beginning of a Proms event …
Andsnes serves up not champagne or even stronger stuff but pure water from a Norwegian spring.