Reviews Håkon Austbø
Performances in the
quality class 'unsurpassed to historic' are rarities. Messiaen qualified the
way in which Håkon Austbø performs his music as ideal. And that was evident on
Monday evening: not only because Austbø studied with Messiaen's wife Yvonne
The music of Olivier Messiaen is full of symbolic meaning. Sounds refer to colours, colours to significations and numbers to the Creation.
In other words: whoever can interpret this music the way its (earthly) creator meant it to be, is in some way a prophet himself.
Håkon Austbø is a skinny fjordman with a blond moustache and a watery gaze. But when he takes his place behind the piano something changes. Gaiety disappears in a deliric trance, rigidity in a luminous, sheer inhuman stream of concentration. Austbø takes the role of a medium and becomes an intermediary of the music's significance. This requires an unconditional abandon to the music, to be met exclusively with unconditional approval. When Austbø plays, another interpretation is absolutely unthinkable.
The piano cycleVingt regards sur l'enfant Jésus consists of twenty movements about, roughly, the Creation of the Universe and the Jesus child. Austbø performed the 120 minutes of structurally and psychologically involved music without a single flaw, in itself an almost unfeasible accomplishment, since all pianistic qualities have to be constantly available. Big bangs of the old testament (fortissimo) suddenly but smoothly transform into sweetnesses of the new testament (pianissimo). And all colours of the rainbow need to find their musical counterpart in one single instrument, requiring the pianist to conjure up an orchestral sound from his instrument.
Håkon Austbø bended effortlessly to all musical turns, from the emphatically erotic to the celestially sereen, but in exchange he had to hand in his soul.. with the last note the trance broke and Olivier Messiaen and the Jesus child again became simply Håkon Austbø, an introvert pianist, somewhat bewildered receiving his ovation.
Mischa Spel - Het Parool (Amsterdam)
The culmination of
the festival, though, was not all this gorgeous old music. Pianist Håkon Austbø
played Messiaen's Vingt Regards in a
marathon session from eleven to one thirty at night he played out these
emotions in all their gradations, he established musical connections and brought
unity into Messiaen's vivid style. For the chosen ones present, this
performance probably came closest to the sacred experience aimed at in this
Paul Luttikhuis - NRC Handelsblad (Amsterdam)
in the world the concert would have brought about a sensation. And so it was,
indeed, for those present on Sunday evening when Håkon Austbø played Messiaen's
two hour cycle Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus.
I heard the work myself at several occasions and with first class musicians but never experienced anything close to what Austbø achieved on Sunday.
Already the colour of chopinesque melancholy in the beautiful opening movement, followed by ravelian refinement in the second, signalled something unusual, in a business where the specialists of each composer easily lose their grip on the personal recreation and end up resembling each other completely.
But not Austbø. We heard him playing with all registers open, relying upon a lifetime's musical experience and concentrate this with violent force into an unequalled performance.
The appearance of the frail, birdlike figure was a fairy tale in itself, as it gathered all its energy into producing sounds you would hardly consider possible on a concert grand. Thus he didn't just play up to the extasy of the work, a term worn out by its overuse referring to Messiaens cascades of notes. He also managed to get these back to the finest nuances of the music and sing them with restrained force, intensely beautiful and stretched into infinity.
There is much talk about the joy at the rich accretion of Norwegian musicians in the last years. However, this joy is substantially deepened through the secret jubilation at performers of Austbø's stature, repeatedly setting a standard that others may reach for.
Ståle Wikshåland - Dagbladet (Oslo)
until Sunday night, he never performed the entire cycle of Messiaen's twenty
meditations. Late, but in return, magnificent! For years to come, this royal
performance will stand as something of a reference for the happy ones present.
For me it joins up with inextinguishable memories of Austbø at his sovereign
best - Ravel's Left hand concerto in 'Konserthuset' a couple of years ago, or
Carter's Night Fantasies at the Bergen Festival in '89.
Austbø's virtuosity was dazzling, total. But it never became a goal in itself. It was fascinating to hear how, at the dizzying heights of technical bravura, he still kept control and completely realised the subtlest gradations of rhythm and tone. The performance was a fabulous synthesis of boundless virtuosity and musical uprightness, and the enthusiasm of the audience was accordingly.
Harald Kolstad - Arbeiderbladet (Oslo)
This is one of the finest sets of Vingt Regards available: Austbo can be
hypnotic with his rhythmic control of these very difficult pieces, but he is
not a show off either, and his slow phrases 'breathe' very naturally and
American Record Guide
Several complementary virtues conspire to make this recording by the
Norwegian pianist Håkon Austbø by far the most satisfying Vingt regards sur
l'enfant Jesus in the current catalogue
Classic CD 'Collector's Choice'
Austbø's gentle intensity catches the music's extraordinary atmosphere and
his moments of percussive boldness get the dramatic writing a grippingly strong
profile Recommended without reservation
An extremely impressive achievement, in short, and an essential part of any
MEO - Gramophone
Hier erlebt man das Klavier als Instrument der Bekenntnis: Eine der wenigen
mitreißenden, gleichwohl detaillierten Aufnahmen eines großformatigen Zyklus,
bei denen man nicht den Eindruck hat, es würde ornithologische und spirituelle
Peter Cossé - Fono-Forum
Austbø has gone a
long way in his approach to Messiaen's musical spheres. The painstaking
exactness in Messiaen's notation enables Austbø to create an interaction
between temporal aspect, timbre and dynamics that gives a comprehension of
space and movement. Austbø embraces the listener; the distance between podium
and hall is minimized and contributes to a lasting intimate contact that holds
Idar Karevold - Aftenposten (Oslo)
What else can be said about Austbø's playing than that he lets time and
space constitute a higher unity? _ Austbø takes possession of the entire
instrument like an eagle sustained by the air currents, and with his enormous
wing-span paints landscapes which carry you up and far away from the little
venue_ By means of resonances out of this world, Austbø totally released the
poetry of this music and thus fortified his position as the foremost
interpreter of this monumental work.
Hjalmar A. Kjelsvik - Vårt Land(Oslo)
The pianist Håkon
Austbø is a great Messiaen player but few people know this except maybe those
who know his performance of the Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant-Jésus on the budget label Naxos.
Austbø, a Norwegian living in the Netherlands, plays the same cycle on Tuesday in Utrecht and there is reason to have high expectations to that performance. Austbø was coached long ago in the subtleties of Messiaen's piano works by Messiaen himself and his first interpreter, the pianist Yvonne Loriod. His performance - of greater contrasts than that of Loriod - makes evident that Austbø isn't content with imitation but keeps up his own, distinguished style.
Of equally great interest is the result of Austbø's excursion through the bird reserves of Messiaen, named Catalogue d'oiseaux and Petites Esquisses d'oiseaux. Certainly when you consider the fact that this is one of the most problematic segments of Messiaen's work.
It is a world of sounds as intriguing as that of the Stockhausen Klavierstücke, and as hard for the pianist to penetrate. Austbø seems to do that with the greatest ease, separates the primary from the secondary, transverses the entire skyline during half an hour with La rousserolle effarvatte and at that gives a strong profile to the sonorous possibilities of the piano.
Roland de Beer - de Volkskrant (Amsterdam)
Håkon Austbø is
working on an impressive Messiaen cycle. After the Vingt Regards sur
l'Enfant-Jésus now the release on three
cd's the monumental, more than two hour lastingCatalogue d'oiseaux, in which the composer transcribed bird calls to
piano sounds. It is a striking recording that easily matches those of the large
Thiemo Wind - de Telegraaf (Amsterdam)
My disc of the year: Definitely a
three-disc Naxos set of Olivier Messiaen's mighty piano cycle Catalogue
d'oiseaux, 13 movements based on the calling-sounds of different
birds, which together constitute one of the undoubted maserpieces of twentieth
century keyboard literature. Håkon Austbø is the soloist, and his great
achievement was to vividly project the extraordinary range of touch and colour
in these pieces without ever over-advertising the extremities of their
Terry Blain - Classic CD
...ainsi la somptuosité de la sonorité de Håkon Austbø, grâce à une
utilisation magistralement conduite de la précision des attaques et des
prolongements harmoniques de la pédale, offre-t-elle aux modelés
"decrescendos" des nuances nimbées d'une aura sensuelle quasi
magique. Et tout cela cependant dans la clarté d'un discours savamment construit.
Ainsi n'est pas oublié mais magnifié le côté charnel profond de Messiaen. Le
climat de La chouette hulotte ou de l'Alouette
lulu par exemple en porte témoignage.
Jean Hamon - Répertoire
A further recording from a master Messiaen interpreter, Haakon Austbo, in a mixed programme that calls for all his colouristic control
Discussing previous volumes in this series, I've mentioned Austbø's subtle
palette of keyboard colour, and his sensitive feeling for Messiaen's
characteristic silences. I should have remarked - and it's evident here
throughout the Préludes especially -
upon his ability to produce different degrees of dynamic simultaneously,
without the quieter elements ever being overwhelmed. It adds an almost
three-dimensional quality to his sound. Which is not to say that his playing is
ever austere or dry; indeed its primary characteristic is sheer tonal beauty,
emphasised by what sounds like a very fine piano in a pleasing acoustic (that
of St Martin's Church, East Woodhay).
More spectacular pianism is called for in the vivid colours and juxtapositions of Cantéyodjayâ, of course, and Austbø provides it in fine measure, but even here sheer beauty of sound seems to have been a high imperative.
Messiaen has been very fortunate in his keyboard interpreters. Austbø is among the best of them, and to have such playing available at such a low price is a cause for grateful rejoicing.
Michael Oliver - Gramophone
Austbø belongs to
the very foremost of Norwegian pianists, which in spite of this national
reservation means quite a lot. It is rare to hear such richness of touch and
sonority as with Austbø, where everything is at the service of the musical
expression. Pianissimo passages are played around with in a way that only the the
best can achieve. The concerto is in fact quite complex in its expressiveness,
and this was rendered maximally_Such things generate music. This magic shading
was not less present in the encore (Schoenberg).
Trond Arne Pettersen - Adresseavisen (Trondheim)
30 years ago the
teenager Håkon Austbø made his debut as a pianist. Long shall last the talking
about the jubilee yesterday in Aulaen.
It was beyond comparison the best concert I heard this year. Not because it was technically polished but because it never was about music as show-off.
Where others don't surpass surface finishing, Austbø penetrated far beyond production of sound. The music turned into what it should be: a statement. From thought to soul, from podium to audience, from another time to ours. Here common figurations in Olav Anton Thommessen and Debussy mingled effortlessly - while Schumann sounded more modern than the Frenchman.
Debussy requires all but percussive touch - the result may be monotonous but not with a variety of sound like Austbø's. Just as he is leading us to the innermost meditation, like the light streaming through a church window, the left claw may strike so suddenly as to give you a thump in the diaphragm. Or he conjures up fragments and reminiscences of Brahms like a sail extended in universe. Or, like in the seventh Prelude where the vision debouches into four wandering, lighting bell-tones, as a mirror of the rune structures in Thommessen.
It is rather rare for twelve preludes to cause continuous breathlessness. "Fireworks", often played with virtuoso splendour à la Liszt, was now rendered in vibrating tension. On the other hand Austbø put silence to those who disdainfully characterise the most improvisatory, fragmented preludes as empty formulas. "Feuilles mortes" as well as "Canope" now became lighting summits, preceding an almost shockingly subtle Schumann after the interval.
Yngvild Sørbye - Dagbladet (Oslo)
Hakon Austbö nous
avait éblouis jadis à travers des microsillons Saravah (Janacek, Scriabine). Ce
disque confirme l'excellence de cet artiste. L'interprétation d'Hakon Austbö
supporte la comparaison avec les plus grandes. Dans la 4e pièce, il vous
transperce le cur de ses plaintes à 1'égal de M. Argerich, et dans la 6e, il
sidère par ce ton tour à tour intime, incantatoire, fantastique, visionnaire,
Le jeu d'Hakon Austbö est simple: sans afféteries, il va droit à l'essentiel, de l'emportement grandiose aux plaintes déchirantes des sections Adagio du mouvement initial... son jeu est toujours juste, d'un ton vraiment schumannien, et toujours émouvant, même dans le moindre passage apparemment secondaire du "Moderato", qui prend des allures d'épopée 1égendaire. Et que dire de son toucher aérien, poétique, qui fait chanter les premières pages de l'Adagio final comme presque personne avant lui, qui en fait jaillir une mélodie profonde et bouleversante, là où d'autres ne déroulent que des mornes arpèges?
Philippe van den Bosch - Répertoire
A sigh went through
the Grieg hall on Thursday as Håkon Austbø put his fingers on the keys and
opened the third Bartok piano concerto. Everyone knew something great was about
to happen, that this was going to be one of those rare evenings when the
soloist doesn't just render the music but creates it anew, whereas we - the
audience - are taken into the process and may experience the work from inside.
In the performance of Bartok's ultimate piece Austbø put himself on the edge of the knife, in a breathtaking balance between strong control and generous freedom. He has transcended all technical problems, he knows and masters this complex piece, and his playing possesses a translucent clarity. But it is also constantly trembling with high tension, almost nervously strained. The sovereign mastery of all details gives him the margin to undertake a continuous dialogue with the work - and with the orchestra and the hall: He listens intensively to every little nuance, the most minim change of mood, ready to correct and to give shape, to counteract and to consolidate. And he moves unhindered, with unyielding musical logic, from the breathless prayer in the Adagio religioso of the second movement to the rhythmical ecstasy in the fast, stamping third.
Peter Larsen - Bergens Tidende (Bergen, Norway)
It is not often
that one gets to hear a pianist whose performance leaves a lingering impression
upon the listener's senses. Haakon Austbo is just such a pianist.
From the first note that he struck. he held the listener spellbound. His charisma and intense personality infused even the pauses within the music, accordingly now dramatic, now dreamy, now waiting, now tense. And then galvanised by some hidden, inner energy, his hands would encompass the entire keyboard in the fast and furious passages as well as coax the sweetest of sounds in the most delicate of music phrases.
Flavia De Souza - New Straits Times (Kuala Lumpur)
Klavierkonzert gehört längst zu den Publikumsfavoriten und löste strürmischen
Beifall aus, auch dank der musikalisch erfüllten und technisch überlegenen
Gestaltung mit dem Norwegischen Pianisten Hakon Austbö. Er begann mit
elementarem Zugriff und stellte der virtuosen Eröffnung das elegische
Hauptthema mit zarter Klanggebung entgegen. Diese Differenzierung zeichnete die
Aufführung insgesamt aus. Überlegen führte Paavo Berglund als gern willkommen
geheißener Gastdirigent das Orchester.
Vor dem Hintergrund
der weit ausschwingenden Linien im Orchester steht vor allem der virtuose
Klavierpart für das Moment der Bewegung ein. Hakon Austbö versah ihn mit
Stefan Rütter, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger
profondes et très raffinées recherches introspectives sur Skrjabin, protagoniste
de l'affleurement pur et vierge du tissus constitutif (ce qui permet d'entendre
de nouvelles sonorités insoupçonnées), il met méticuleusement en évidence la
complexité architecturale des écritures scriabiniennes.
(Messiaen) Rendre avec cohérence, avec une pareille solidité technique, une lucidité explicative et totale, avec un engagement émotif poussé (sans que ce dernier ne prenne le dessus sur 1'exécution) est une réussite artistique rare, qui place le pianiste Austbø aux sommets de l'interprétation des maîtres du vingtième siècle.
G.D.M. - Il Secolo XIX (Genova)
performances which one will remember for years to come: .. revelatory, flaming
performances of Scriabin by pianist Håkon Austbø
Hilary Finch, The Times (London)