Abu Dhabi Festival: pianist Leif Ove Andsnes gives thrilling performance at Emirates Palace
For lovers of the piano, this has been a vintage year at the Abu Dhabi Festival. First we hosted three young virtuosos from three continents – Ah Ruem Ahn, Julian Libeer and Jan Lisiecki, from South Korea, Belgium and Canada, respectively – who each performed incredible, intimate solo recitals in tiny halls.
Then came one of the big guns – one of the world’s most-renowned pianists, performing a classic concerto alongside a full 70-piece orchestra.
Leif Ove Andsnes is a veritable rock star. He is, of course, a concert pianist – but in both reception and regard he has more in common with contemporary superstars than classical clichés. This is seen in the ecstatic praise he attracts – “one of the most gifted musicians of his generation”, gushed The Wall Street Journal – and in the way he carries himself: head held high, limbs flailing theatrically, not just sharing his effortless virtuosity, but sure in his need to show it. There is also no one you would choose ahead of him to perform Beethoven at this time, with Andsnes at the tail end of his incredible, four-year “Beethoven journey”, during which the Norwegian talent has recorded and performed all five of the great master’s Piano Concertos.
In Abu Dhabi, he performed the notoriously demanding last of these works.
The piece began with a statement of intent – three huge, looming orchestral chords punctuated lengthy piano arpeggios and Andsnes utterly dazzled as his hands raced up and down the keys, summoning a cascading waterfall of notes. A conversation ensued, the orchestra setting a theme before falling silent, leaving the piano to answer in ever more staggeringly showy crescendos.
Throughout, the star presided over his instrument with mastery and aplomb, tilting his head back in ecstasy, leaning over the keys like a laboratory professor, gyrating madly as if it was his whole body, not just his hands, that were striking the keys.
The pianist was backed sublimely by the Budapest Festival Orchestra, in one of three programmes they performed during this year’s festival.
Conducted with typical flair and fire by the orchestra’s co-founder and musical director Iván Fischer, the ensemble had their own chance to shine, with book-ended performances of Brahms. The evening opened with three of his charming Hungarian Dances, while the second half was set aside for Brahms’s Symphony No 1 in C minor.
The orchestra seemed on familiar territory with a work fittingly indebted to Beethoven’s sense of drama and heroism as they relaxed into its lush string and horn exchanges, while the final movement’s brazenly histrionic fireworks brought the evening to a staggeringly triumphant close.
• The Budapest Festival Orchestra perform Mozart’s The Magic Flute on Monday, March 30 at 8pm at Emirates Palace. For more information, visit www.abudhabifestival.ae
Updated: March 28, 2015 04:00 AM