GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST
continues the exploration in the most compelling way imaginable. It takes us from large-scale concertos down to the solo piano Rondo, K485, which Andsnes elevates to veritable monodrama with his sensitivity to its invention.
I’ve always been more drawn to Mozart’s G minor Piano Quartet than to the second, in E flat, but this new recording in which Andsnes gathers together his Mahler CO string principals makes such a strong case for it that I’m tempted to change my mind. And it’s right up there with my longtime favourite account from Paul Lewis and the Leopold String Trio. Matthew Truscott brings a real intensity to proceedings with his vibrato-lite timbre, and the sense of accord between the four is a thing of wonder. The slow movement is masterly indeed – there are so many aspects of the piano’s opening phrases that can sound stilted (tempo, the rolling of the chord, ornamentation, rests) but here they are innate and beautiful. And the strings respond in kind: their sf-piano accentuation is leant into just enough, but not overstated. The finale too goes with a swing, just a little faster than Lewis et al, who are more apt to dream here, whereas this new account is more playful, finding due contrast in the darker minor-key moments. Such detail is everywhere apparent – time and again Andsnes had me reaching for the score to confirm things I’d never noticed before. The musicians are joined by soprano Christiane Karg for a searing account of Ch’io mi scordi di te?, giving the creamier voice of Soile Isokoski a run for her money.
Nowhere is the sense of exploration more overt than in the two concertos. Rarely has the strings-and-bassoon opening of the C minor (K491) sounded so starkly intense: indeed, Anderszewski’s Sinfonia Varsovia sound almost cosy in comparison, and even Uchida’s Cleveland account is more generalised. That characterisation is a constant feature, such as in the development section of the first movement, with the remarkable contrast between strings and the oboe and bassoon interjections. As for Andsnes himself, this is playing possessing passion, strength and delicacy. Every phrase, it seems, has been considered, but never at the expense of bigger spans. To the E flat Larghetto they bring a confiding quality, a warmth that is hypnotic, though as we dip into the minor (from 1’28”), flute, oboe and bassoon offer a starker vision. Uchida emotes more overtly in this slow movement, while in the finale the theme upon which Mozart builds his variations is already full of resignation. With the Mahler CO the theme is faster-
flowing, yet it also harks back to the opening of the concerto in the plangency of the string phrases, and when Andsnes appears in Var 1 it’s as if he has been breathing with the orchestra throughout that theme, so seamless is his entry. The mood swings of the variations are brilliantly characterised, and the final section in 6/8 has a vehement desperation to it.
The A major Concerto (K488), on the other hand, is wonderfully guileless, at least on the surface. With Uchida you’re aware of a greater sonic weightiness, but turn to the F sharp minor Adagio and how effectively Andsnes delves beneath its sighing beauty to grasp a deeper truth, unfurled with myriad colourings. As always, his empathy with the orchestra is innate – listen to the blended wind chords or the pizzicato strings cutting through the texture; together they give a songfulness to Mozart’s great arcs of melody that is moving in the extreme. All dolour is swept away in a gorgeously ebullient finale (again with outstanding wind and a fearless bassoon), creating a veritable instrumental opera buffa.
The album was recorded at the Musikverein and the Bremen Sendesaal and it’s a tribute to the engineers that the acoustic is well matched, while Andrew Mellor’s notes are typically probing and perceptive, crowning some of the finest Mozart-playing on the planet. Harriet Smith Piano Quartet No 2 – selected comparison: Lewis, Leopold Stg Trio (10/03) (HYPE) CDA67373 K488 & 491 – coupled as above: Uchida, Cleveland Orch (12/09) (DECC) 478 1524DH K491 – selected comparison: Anderszewski, Sinf Varsovia (4/02) (VIRG/ERAT) 545504-2 Ch’io mi scordi di te? – selected comparison: Isokoski, Viitasalo, Tapiola Sinfonietta, Schreier (1/05) (ONDI) ODE1043-2
Nielsen . Sibelius
Nielsen Violin Concerto, Op 33 Sibelius Violin Concerto, Op 47 Johan Dalene vn Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra / John Storgårds BIS F Í BIS2620 (74’ • DDD/DSD)
Johan Dalene’s Nielsen Concerto was, to some extent, a known quantity.
The young Swede won the Nielsen Competition in 2019 with a performance that proved he had the measure of a piece it’s notoriously difficult to get the measure of – technically and aesthetically. This outstanding recording shows a degree more confidence and some tonal and technical refinements but no sense of polishing up; Dalene’s Nielsen remains as fresh, plain-dealing and stimulating as it was in 2019. His recording is up there with those from Vilde Frang and Cecilia Zilliacus, my top recommendations in a recent Gramophone Collection (4/19). Dalene’s account might well pip even those.
There is character here at every turn – in momentary appoggiaturas or portamento (unequivocally ironic), in an extraordinary parade of temperaments (Nielsen’s lazy layabout pops up as often as his choleric upstart), in the gameplay of the final Rondo scherzando in which Dalene is every bit a cartoon-character match for Storgårds’s cunning RSPO and in a consistent sense of vernacular directness that reveals the work’s roots; it’s difficult not to think, in Dalene’s second cadenza, of Nielsen the fiddler improvising a solo in his father’s wedding band. And yet, somehow, Dalene always sounds like himself – in his distinctive, delicious and very present savoury tone (never revelled in for its own sake) and in his ability to fix a point on a horizon and play, unhurriedly and with a sense of purity, towards that point.
That pays spectacularly in Sibelius’s Concerto, and an Adagio molto imbued with a sense of tenacious calm that appears to slow the music even as it remains at tempo (for a change, that tempo is as marked). Elsewhere Dalene’s highly distinctive phrasing draws attention to all sorts of linked patterns and shapes in the composer’s unique syntax while never distorting the line or seeming incongruous – as though Dalene’s distinct ideas about phraseology have come to him in the moment, entirely naturally (that is particularly so in the finale, where his insect-like high-register work around 5’00” suggests a different sort of smile). Even in that movement Dalene is technically capable but not drawn into flaunting it virtuoso-style – so aesthetically on-point for Nielsen but bringing a refreshing edge to Sibelius’s Concerto, whose relationship with the idea of ‘display’ is more complicated. For my money, there’s no finer coupling of these highly contrasting yet much-associated concertos on record. I suspect the individual performances could well prove superlative for many listeners, too. Andrew Mellor Nielsen – selected comparisons: Frang, Danish Nat SO, Jensen (9/12) (WARN) 602570-2 Zilliacus, Helsingborg SO, Blendulf (2/16) (DB) DBCD162