Leif Ove Andsnes

The Beethoven Journey: Piano Concerto No. 5; Choral Fantasy

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Leif Ove Andsnes has treated his survey of the piano concertos of Ludwig van Beethoven as a journey of musical and historical significance, and this final CD in the series presents the Piano Concert No. 5 in E flat major (shorn of its nickname, "Emperor"), and the Choral Fantasy in C minor as a destination. It is Andsnes' position that the Fifth Piano Concerto was intended by Beethoven to be an act of defiance against Napoleon, so the work is not a glorification of imperial aims, but the opposite. Similarly, the concerto-like Choral Fantasy is an expression of liberation from oppression, and a musical declaration of Beethoven's humanist values. In terms of the performances, Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra deliver streamlined renditions that are lean and muscular, if not exactly guided by period practices, and the orchestra sometimes approximates Classical textures without using historically informed techniques or original instrumentation. Of course, Andsnes' piano is a modern instrument, and this is always obvious, despite his caution in reining in its dynamics to match the smaller volume of the orchestra. Whether or not listeners want a pared-down and intimate version of the Fifth Piano Concerto, without a thorough period treatment, is a matter of taste, but Andsnes' compromise between styles of performance works for his purposes. The Choral Fantasy is similarly reduced in scale, which allows the soloistic instrumental writing to shine through wonderfully, though when the full Prague Philharmonic Choir enters, it is a bit out of proportion to what preceded it. Still, if expressing the joy of freedom is Andsnes' aim, he comes close to achieving that in this traditional conclusion.

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