Short-measure playing time, high-calibre musicianship from Leif Ove Andsnes as he links Chopin’s Four Ballades with three of the Nocturnes. Quality wins.
Andsnes commands immediately with the opening of the G-minor Ballade, a man with a firm opinion as to how this music goes. From dramatic introduction to elfin dexterity via lyrical song, there is a story to be told, and Andsnes tells it like it is, with tender touch to broadside if unforced fortissimo, clarity and assorted dynamics and colours maintained, rhythms chiselled. The first of Andnes’s chosen Nocturnes is the F-major (Opus 15/1), lovingly shaped, and with the thrilling middle section that is as contrasted as can be: a stormy night indeed.
Such excellence marks out the rest of the programme. The soulful openings to Ballades 2 & 4, poetry in musix, for example, the volatility of the former, the scintillating coda of the latter, and not forgetting an elegant A-flat Ballade that steps in the right direction, harmonic curdles brought out; and of the other Nocturnes (C-minor, Opus 48/1, and B-major, Opus 62/1) both have a magnetic quality, drawing you into a veiled world, one that blossoms from moonlight into greater dimensions and intensity, achieved with seamless and natural artistry.
And natural is also applied to the sound, the piano unencumbered and vivid, without intimidation, and also without any hint of the rubbish reverb that can get daubed on during post-production to unhelpful/irritating effect – but I’d expect nothing less from John Fraser (producer) & Arne Akselberg (microphone master).
Six consecutive days of studio time for fifty minutes of music seems luxurious, but there is no hint of Andsnes labouring to perfection; indeed each performance is both deeply considered and ink-still-wet, possibly unedited (or with very few snips), and Andsnes’s convictions are faithfully captured.