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Andsnes and Friends 2, Dulwich Picture Gallery | reviews, news & interviews

Andsnes and Friends 2, Dulwich Picture Gallery

Andsnes and Friends 2, Dulwich Picture Gallery

More fresh perspectives on Norway, its music and its art

Leif Ove Andsnes plays above a fjord in Norway

Nature, nationalism, folk culture: the broad themes of Norway’s visual arts map easily onto its music. That has given Leif Ove Andsnes and his colleagues plenty of leeway in planning their musical tributes to the painter Nikolai Astrup.

For this, their second programme at the Dulwich Picture Gallery (which is hosting the first ever exhibition of Astrup’s work outside Norway, and the first major one worldwide) the three musicians presented a range of surprising facets of the nation’s musical psyche. We heard the folk themes, of course, but classical and even Baroque elements were also explored, which seemed particularly fitting in a performance space – the main atrium of the gallery – observed from all sides by aristocratic portraits from the Old Masters.

But the short recital began with familiar fare: Andsnes in Grieg’s Lyric Pieces. The pianist’s touch suited the acoustic, deliberate and clear but never overbearing. Despite the ubiquity of his Grieg recordings, Andsnes is always able to keep this music fresh, with every phrase holding surprises of nuance and dynamic. The short set ended with the rousing Peasant Dance, op. 54/2, the gradual build-up to the climax perfectly paced, the ever-increasing energy seeming to come from within the music itself. That preparation made the climax seem thunderous, but the crystal clarity of the textures, even here, demonstrated how Andsnes was finely gauging his dynamics to the space.

Ringstad again handled the technicalities with ease, with Andsnes offering solid but sympathetic supportViolinist Guro Kleven Hagen brought us forward a century or two with the next work, Classical Brace, written by Klaus Sandvik in 2009. The programme note was frustratingly slight on detail here, saying only that Sandvik is seen as a successor to Arne Nordheim. More useful would have been an explanation of the competing styles within the work. It begins in Hardanger fiddle mode, with unisons, or near unisons, in sustained double-stopping and skittering barriolage. From there it grows into more complex textures, while always maintaining an austere, even icy, tone. In the final passage, the music distills into a Baroque air, perhaps the source of all the ideas up to this point.

Hagen’s performance was committed and assured, affording the long phrases and sustained textures coherence through her broad, even phrasing. The following Romance by Johan Svendsen brought out her more expressive side, the music’s sweeping, romantic textures proving equally amenable to her impressively versatile technique. So too the Norwegian Dance No. 1 of Johan Halvorsen, the virtuosic fireworks taking the programme in yet another unexpected direction. In both works, and for the remainder of the programme, Andsnes took a back seat, accompanying with panache, but rarely even approaching the limelight.

Norwegian concert at Dulwich

Capricci, by Bjarne Brustad, introduced violist Eivind Holtsmark Ringstad, like Hagen in his early 20s, and a match for her in tone, technique and musical temperament (Hagen with Ringstad in the Dulwich Gallery pictured above by Liv Øvland). The duo for violin and viola calls for one or both instruments to be muted almost throughout, a particularly attractive effect in the gallery acoustic. Brustad’s style tends towards the impressionistic, with long, elegant, and distinctly Norwegian melodies vying with complex colouristic passages for the two instruments. A daring and unusual work, and a perfect choice for the programme.

To conclude, Suite in the Old Style for viola and piano by Christian Sinding. “Old style” here denotes a heavily romantic gloss on the Baroque (the work was written in 1889): Bach via Busoni, or even Stokowski. It is an effective mix, especially in the first movement, where extended virtuosic viola textures are underpinned by Baroque chord sequences and cadences. Ringstad again handled the technicalities with ease, with Andsnes offering solid but sympathetic support.

For an encore: Grieg, who else? A song transcribed for viola and piano. A fitting end to an imaginative and wide-ranging series of concerts. Only two programmes were offered, and both were short. But the musical ground covered here has been impressive, as have the many perspectives and reflections that the concerts have offered on their subject, the work of Nikolai Astrup. One world-class pianist aside, Astrup remains the star attraction here, and the Painting Norway exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery is a real eye-opener. It runs until 15 May. Don’t miss it!

The crystal clear textures demonstrated how Andsnes was finely gauging his dynamics to the space

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