Grieg Piano Concerto Op 16; Schumann Piano Concerto Op 54
You might call them the heavenly twins among piano concertos: not surprisingly, they have been coupled together on disc many times over. It says much for this latest version that it immediately establishes itself as a formidable rival of the two versions listed above, combining as they do spontaneity and concentration, dedication and poetry.
It was the Grieg Concerto that first made the name of Leif Ove Andsnes on disc in 1990. The interpretation remains broadly the same, except that speeds are now rather brisker. It was already so, when in 1992 Andsnes gave a live performance at London’s Barbican with Jansons and the Oslo Philharmonic, but here with the Berlin Philharmonic the gains are even greater.
However many times he has performed the Grieg, Andsnes retains a freshness and expressiveness that never sounds contrived, always spontaneous. That inspirational quality is more markedly perceptible with the new version’s faster tempi, but the expressive flights remain just as broad. In that contrast, Andsnes is firmly supported by Jansons and the Berlin Philharmonic, with playing not just refined but dramatic too in fiercely exciting tuttis. Schumann’s cello melodies are gloriously warm, with textures in both works admirably clear, and Andsnes fully responds to Schumann’s espressivo and ritardando requests.
Though both Stephen Kovacevich – in a 1971 Philips recording which still sounds full-bodied and clear – and Murray Perahia are equally spontaneous, they tend not to be quite so free in their expressive flights; EMI’s finely balanced digital sound and the playing of the Berlin Philharmonic are also in this version’s favour. Andsnes also offers slightly faster basic speeds than his rivals; I particularly like the free-flowing tempo for the central Andantino grazioso of the Schumann, which one would never mistake for a simple Andante. In his many recordings for EMI Andsnes has until now tended to avoid big warhorse works: this splendid new issue establishes that he need not do so.