Leif Ove Andsnes | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Leif Ove Andsnes 

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LEIF OVE ANDSNES

Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes belongs to the postboomer generation of photogenic concert soloists favored by today's increasingly image-conscious impresarios. While the fashion on the distaff side seems to be cute pubescent Asians with eerily phenomenal technique, the requisites for the privileged male circle include a square jaw, brawny build, and punky demeanor. Andsnes, however, is several cuts above the rest, many of whom, like his Scandinavian compatriot Olli Mustonen, may end up flashes in the pan. What the 26-year-old keyboardist has, besides dexterity and commanding technique, is probing intelligence and catholic taste--evident in the way he approaches the major solo pieces by the important though half-forgotten Danish composer Carl Nielsen (on a Virgin Classics CD). His playing gets to the root of Nielsen's music, a rigorous blend of Bachian contrapuntal feeling and strong dramatic impulse, revealing emotional turbulence under a calm surface. Similarly his performances of Rachmaninoff's Third Concerto--the "Rach 3" currently popular among those who've seen the Australian film Shine--avoid the formulaic. Unlike other young virtuosos quick to show off their conquest of the notoriously difficult work, Andsnes took the concerto public only after preparing for a year and a half and allowing his interpretation to mature. His performance of the concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra a couple seasons ago (and his live recording with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra for Virgin Classics) delved deep into the music's melancholy, rightly emphasizing its inner mysticism over its moments of ornate theatricality. A fan of historical recordings--another unusual trait for a musician so young--Andsnes admits to idolizing the protean Russian pianist Svyatoslav Richter, whom he calls a jack-of-all-styles. The program for his latest Orchestra Hall recital, in fact, follows the Richter model: a Beethoven sonata (in this case number 11), a work by an Austro-German romantic (Schumann's Sonata no. 1), and early-20th-century exponents of a venerated folk-derived form (four of Karol Szymanowski's mazurkas). Of course, the cause of a fellow Scandinavian must be championed--too bad it's not Nielsen. But Grieg, who was a Norwegian of greater renown, is represented by a collection of his polished, folk-inspired pieces. Sunday, 3 PM, Orchestra Hall, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Trevor Leighton.

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