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Leif Ove Andsnes: The Beethoven Journey (Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3)

Beethoven:
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37

Leif Ove Andsnes (piano & direction)
Mahler Chamber Orchestra

The "Beethoven Journey" (and, worse, the "Vision for Humanity") described in the graphics for this Sony Classical release is a pure marketing concept; what you get here are a pair of Beethoven's early piano concertos, recorded with Norwegian Leif Ove Andsnes, conducting the Mahler Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard. Andsnes, who isn't known as a Beethoven interpreter, decided to embark on a Beethoven concerto cycle, believe it or not, when he heard a pair of the concertos playing in a hotel elevator in Brazil. As it happens, his readings are very strong. He gets the real benefits available from the piano-and-conducting combination; the Mahler Chamber Orchestra seems very closely interwoven with what Andsnes is doing at the keyboard. In the Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15, effects of the historical-performance movement are audible although he is using a modern piano; in the opening movement Andsnes gives his horns and percussion plenty of space in the orchestral exposition and then answers them with a leisurely, discursive piano part that would be called lazy in mood if it were not so rigorously worked out in its details. Andsnes is not averse to pushing the tempos a bit -- listen to the piano entrance in the first movement of the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37, where the second little chunk is pulled out of its rhythmic context quite dramatically -- but his rhythmic moves are always local and tailored to some specific purpose. The technical gifts that have made Andsnes a star are abundantly on display, with clean lines throughout and great power in the left hand. These are fresh, vital Beethoven performances that are well worth the attention of even those with several versions of these works in their collections already.

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