sat 24/06/2017

Andsnes and Friends at the Astrup Exhibition, Dulwich Picture Gallery | reviews, news & interviews

Andsnes and Friends at the Astrup Exhibition, Dulwich Picture Gallery

Andsnes and Friends at the Astrup Exhibition, Dulwich Picture Gallery

The Norwegian artist's singularity complemented by native chamber music

Revels with old fiddler in one of Astrup's Midsummer Eve bonfire picturesThe Savings Bank Foundation DNB/The Astrup Collection/KODE Art Museums of Bergen

It's rare that a sponsor does more than stump up the money for culture and sometimes request a mention in a review (usually ignored). Last night's godparent, though, the Savings Bank Foundation DNB, is a true self-styled "collaborator", responsible not only for the first major exhibition bringing the remarkable Norwegian artist Nikolai Astrup to the world and public-spirited owner of the greatest collection of his paintings and woodcuts, many on display here, but also through its subsidiary Dextra Musica providing the "Kreisler Bergonzi" violin and the Guadagnini violin on loan to the two young artists playing alongside that great pianist Leif Ove Andsnes in three concerts beneath the central dome of Soane's Dulwich Picture Gallery.

The musicians are giving them under the watchful eye of Gainsborough ladies, with the inspirations of Nikolai Astrup: Painting Norway just out of sight – but never out of mind – while you listen. The most direct connection between the art and the music came in the Hardanger fiddle style emulated right at the heart of Grieg's otherwise Schumannesque First Violin Sonata: a lone violinist is seen egging on the dancers in many of Astrup's vibrant Midsummer Eve bonfire images that dazzle the eye in the last of the superlative exhibition's rooms.

Guro Kleven HagenAnd it was only because I'd spent time before the recital revisiting year-old favourites from Bergen's KODE Art Museums as well as marvelling at newcomers from private and Oslo collections – such woodcuts! – that I was inclined to think of the waterfall above the Jølstravatnet in the sonata's coruscating first movement, tumultuous in the development, while those pagan fires flared in the sparks sent up by the finale. Andsnes was the driving but never overbearing force, Guro Kleven Hagen's judiciously vibrato-low violin (Hagen pictured above by Ole Jørgen Bratland) cresting the water and the flames.

While Astrup's genius throughout his life was to catch a tiny area of Norway in all its changing lights, this first of the two Dulwich recital programme – symmetrical selections of old and new to match Andsnes' Kurtág and Liszt concert I had the privilege of being among 40 people to hear in the main room of Grieg's house at Troldhaugen – ran the gamut of Norwegian moods. Geir Tveitt's piano arrangements of four folktunes from Hardanger are either clever and atmospheric or too interventionist with the original melodies according to taste, but it was wonderful to hear three different colours evoked simultaneously in "Welcome With Honour", and Andsnes has the true master's touch in knowing how to round off a piece evocatively.

Eivind Holtsmark RingstadViola player Eivind Holtsmark Ringstad (pictured left by Erlend Berge) dug passionately into Arne Nordheim's Fracture, with fabulous stamina for double-stopping, and the witty-grotesque moto perpetuo of Bjarne Brustad's Troll's Watermill; an arrangement of Grieg's The First Meeting for viola and piano provided a still centre. It's probably invidious to declare that of the two players in their early 20s Ringstad is the more imposing personality; Hagen's musicianship runs no less deep, and they sounded absolutely as one in the dazzling Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia, another crucial dimension to the recital. Hagen could not have been more poised, either, in a famous encore of restrained sentiment, Ole Bull's The Herd Girl's Sunday. It's worth stressing Andsnes' humble and natural demeanour in the programmes he puts together, in this case with the input of the DNB Foundation; as in Troldhaugen, he was playing alongside the brightest and best of Norway's young musicians. That was the final icing on a rich art-and-music, youth-and-experience, old-and-new cake: skål to Dulwich and Bergen.

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