Piano Benny Andersson Deutsche Grammophon Benny Andersson’s third solo album finds the former ABBA star at his favourite Fazioli grand piano and on prestigious classical label Deutsche Grammophon. Life has been varied and productive through his five-decade-long career, which has seen him latterly absorbed in playing in Swedish folk bands as an accordionist and writing music for choirs. But there has been nothing quite like this in the annals of pop. Piano sees Andersson, 70, sitting alone and exposed at the eponymous instrument, and showing what a wonderfully capable and complete musician he is.
The LP features pieces on which he has been quietly musing away for years and decades; “memoirs”, as he calls them. Six come from the ABBA songbook, including Thank You for the Music and The Day Before You Came; a similar number from the musicals Chess and Kristina fran Duvemala, which he co-wrote with Bjorn Ulvaeus.
Interestingly, Andersson also includes a handful of songs from his first two solo albums, Klinga mina klockor (1987) and November (1989), along with two more recent pieces: an instrumental, Flickornas Rum, which he wrote for his own Benny Andersson Orchestra in 2011, and the choral piece En Skrift I Snon, from 2014.
One is immediately struck by the magical sensitivity and loveliness of his touch. Andersson is a fine pianist, on the complete opposite end of the scale compared with a multitude of pop musicians and rockers who tend to belt the keyboard. He gathers a gorgeous, euphonious sound from the piano, listening deeply into the resonances of the instrument and drawing out melody with the gentlest care. I Let the Music Speak from The Visitors starts from a whisper and grows with classical elegance to become an artful creation resembling Chopin.
You and I from Chess is similarly oh-sogentle to begin with and rolls out in rhapsodic waves so that, despite its restrained dynamics, it seems a bigger piece than the original torch songs: Lisztian in its emotive grandeur but without the bombast.
Therein lies this album’s other intrigue. What quickly dawns on hearing Andersson at the piano are the classical foundations of his songwriting and pianistic approach. The third track, Aldrig from Kristina, bears an uncanny kinship with Chopin’s mazurkas in its delicately pointed rhythms.
Meanwhile, Scott Joplin’s ragtime is affectionately recalled in Thank You for the Music, and the chorale-like Anthem from Chess and contrapuntal voice-leading in the exquisite En Skrift I Snon are almost Bachian.
Andersson’s language is his own, though, and to hear him crafting his lifetime’s work into life at the piano is exceedingly special. All 21 tracks are polished gems that you want to hear repeatedly, not only for their generosity of heart and soul but for their refined beauty.