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Sony’s back cover text contains a bold statement by pianist Leif Ove Andsnes: ‘Everyone was astonished that there could be a major composer out there with such beautiful, accessible music that people don’t know.’ Were he speaking of McCabe or Holmboe, or a real unknown such as Steve Elcock or David Hackbridge Johnson, the sentiment would be admirable, but his subject was Sibelius, all of whose piano music has been recorded several times, with at least two complete surveys on disc and a third, from Joseph Tong (whose fine second volume is reviewed on page 80), in progress.

Although many of us have known about Sibelius’ piano music for some time, Andsnes plays this selection with the intensity of new discovery. He believes in the music and his fervour is audible throughout – just listen, for example, to the attack in the Op 5/5 Impromptu that opens the programme, the Rondino, Op 68/2, or throughout Kyllikki. ‘Listen to this’ he seems to be saying and Sony’s recording catches his advocacy superbly.

It is a shame that, unlike his Nielsen disc of a few years back which contained complete works only, much of this recital is Andsnes’ cherry-picking individual gems from Opp 5, 24, 58, 68 (why not both Rondinos?), 75, 76 and 97. While some of the collections are undeniably loose – and uneven in quality – many, such as the six Impromptus Op 5, or The Trees Op 75, are best heard as a group, especially when so beautifully rendered as here. The gain can be heard in the First Sonatina and the concluding Esquisses Op 114. As a single-disc sampler, this is peerless, but for those wanting the full experience, I hope Andsnes records more.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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