Andsnes’ skills hit a peak but could take flight with passion

Special to The Times

Elegant restraint and admirable versatility color the playing of the young Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. As he demonstrated in previous visits and again at his Friday night recital in Walt Disney Concert Hall, Andsnes is an effortless virtuoso and a felicitous program maker.

For all his many strong qualities, however -- and these include a dead-on accuracy, a clear, unpercussive and bell-like tone, and a composer’s sense of logic -- Andsnes sometimes falls short in spontaneity and urgency. His music comes from a strong mind but an often disengaged heart.

These characteristics were all in evidence before a large and enthusiastic audience in a program encompassing Schubert’s Sonata in D, D. 850, the West Coast premiere of Bent Sorensen’s “The Shadows of Silence” and Mussorgsky’s original version of that sprawling canvas “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

In the Russian composer’s suite, which the 34-year-old pianist played with ease and panache, Andsnes brought out a great variety of descriptive moods. Each vignette stood apart from the others; the contrasts were bold. And the final pianistic feat, that of making “The Great Gate of Kiev” seem to grow in dynamics and size, proved exceptional.


For all that, not all of the possible colors were achieved, and a sense of kaleidoscopic range escaped Andsnes’ touch. Here, as throughout the program, the prevailing tint was monochromatic; the sound seldom varied.

Sorensen’s quarter-hour exploration of neoimpressionism held much interest, through alternating moments of eeriness and repose, of pastoral incident and threatening tremolos. The Danish composer knows the piano well and uses it colorfully.

The most heartening, and promising, playing of the recital came in Schubert’s seraphic but eventful Sonata in D. The composer’s imperturbable nature and lyric genius emerged as handsomely and gracefully as if newly wrought.

The performance was like a quiet but animated conversation with a wise member of an older generation; it was an exceptional channeling of the composer’s spirit. At the end, after the mighty climaxes of “Pictures,” Andsnes responded to vociferous applause with brief encores by Mompou, Mendelssohn and Schumann.