Leif Ove Andsnes Liszt: Piano Recital. Leif Ove...

CD REVIEWS

October 18, 2001|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Leif Ove Andsnes

Liszt: Piano Recital. Leif Ove Andsnes, pianist. (EMI Classics 7243 5 57002)

Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes has emerged in the past few years as one of most interesting talents on the scene. He is something of an anomaly - a non-flashy virtuoso. He can play the heck out of the piano, but nothing in his approach suggests self-consciousness or calculation. The music, not the musician, always comes first.

Liszt, of course, could be self-consciousness and calculation personified, so it's doubly fascinating to hear what Andsnes does with a hearty sampling of Liszt's works on this recital disc. Nary a note sounds insincere, showy. Whether delving into a large-scale piece like the Dante Sonata or the brief, unsettled Valse oubliee, the pianist finds a way to unleash all the imaginative coloristic effects in the score, but he never stops there. Andsnes is keenly interested in the purpose behind those notes and colors; he fashions invariably cohesive and affecting statements.

There is some truly spectacular pianism here, especially in that Dante Sonata, which has an arresting intensity from start to finish (he even manages to save up an extra burst of power for the very end). The familiar Mephisto Waltz No. 1 gets an incisive workout, but it's even more fun to hear Andsnes tap the intriguing power of the less frequently heard No. 2 and No. 4. The recital also includes engaging accounts of the B minor Ballade and other pieces that reveal the massive imagination of Liszt and the equally sizable talent of this pianist.

Leif Ove Andsnes will play Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Yakov Kreizberg, on a program that also includes Mendelssohn's `Scottish' Symphony at 8 p.m. Oct. 26 and 27, 3 p.m. Oct. 28 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. For ticket information, call 410-783-8000.

****

Anonymous 4

The Second Circle - Love Songs of Francesco Landini. (Harmonia Mundi HMU 907269).

In recording after recording, Anonymous 4 - the a cappella female vocal quartet - has provided much more than musical history lessons. The group's sonic journeys into the distant past invariably have a warmth and spontaneity that avoids even a whiff of the academic. This latest release is another case in point.

Here, the singers focus on the gentle romantic ballads of Landini, the blind composer who came to represent the essence of musical refinement in 14th-century Florence. The poetry is rich in emotion and imagery, covering the gamut of love, from bright joy to inner torment (the "second circle" in the title refers to the lovers' realm in Dante's vision of hell).

There is a wealth of subtle variety in Landini's means of expression. His melodic lines, whether in songs for two, three or all four voices, are invariably engaging and communicative; his elegant harmonies and strong sense of rhythmic flow add to the music's strong appeal.

The disc captures the celebrated purity of Anonymous 4's sound, the superb smoothness of blend and articulation. It's doubtful that Landini ever heard his works performed more beautifully than this.

Anonymous 4 will perform `The Second Circle -- Love Songs of Francesco Landini' on the Candlelight Concerts series at 8 p.m. Oct. 27 at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. For ticket information, call 410-715-0034 or 301-596-6203.

****

Bela Fleck

Perpetual Motion. (Sony Classical SK 89610)

Just when you thought you'd heard the last of the crossover albums, along comes another. And - surprise - it's a charmer. Packing something of the invigorating freshness that characterized the Switched-on Bach recordings of the '60s, this disc puts a banjo-pickin' spin on the classics.

Bela Fleck's virtuosity on the banjo is no secret, and he does some brilliant work here, whether negotiating rapid bursts of Bach with aplomb or sensitively drawing out lyrical lines of Chopin or Tchaikovsky. In most of the items, he teams up with one or more musicians - among them violinist Joshua Bell, cellist Gary Hoffman, bassist (and pianist) Edgar Meyer, guitarist John Williams and percussionist Evelyn Glennie. Each collaborator gets into the spirit of things, which ranges from playing it straight to slipping in some jazzy riffs (Fleck and Meyer did the arranging).

Not everything works effectively; a trio version of the opening of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata with Fleck, Hoffmann and Meyer seems more dutiful than inspired, for example. But the combination of Fleck's crystalline banjo and Glennie's marimba in Bach pieces is magical, and the banjo/guitar version of Beethoven's Variations on God Save the King is as smooth as it is colorful.

For good measure, there are two performances of Paganini's Moto Perpetuo - one classical, played by Fleck and Meyer, both in full bravura mode; and a snazzy bluegrass one featuring Fleck and guitarist James Bryan Sutton that's just as much fun.

***

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