Leif Ove Andsnes. Photo by Felix Broede.

Leif Ove Andsnes returned to San Francisco Thursday night for a solo recital of music by Haydn, Bartok, Debussy and Chopin. Perfectly planned, the Norwegian pianist started off wonderfully with an expressive account Haydn's Piano Sonata in C minor and things got better as the night progressed. The Haydn sonata was an interesting, slightly odd, choice since they're relatively neglected among the composer's other works, but Andsnes made a case for why we should be hearing them more often (Haydn composed over 60 piano sonatas)- it sounded much more ahead of its time than I would have expected. Bartok's Suite for Piano, Opus 14, a four movement piece drawing on the composer's interest in folk music without really quoting any, presented a different vision of his work than that of the three piano concertos. The last piece of the first half was Debussy's Images Book 1. By the time Andsnes got to these three musical impressions of water, the work of Rameau, and movement, he'd won me over with his elegant and tasteful playing. Neither flamboyant nor stern, he performed like a man in love with a keyboard, coaxing from it what he wished with seeming ease  and pleasure.

He even made the difficult pieces of the all-Chopin second half look like a labor of love, though they're notoriously challenging. Andsnes played four waltzes followed by two Ballades with a Nocturne sandwiched in between the latter. The second waltz, in G-flat Major, Opus 70 No. 1, parts of which were later used in the ballet Les Sylphides, was was the highlight of the performance, though Andsnes performed impressively  throughout the set. Okay, the last Ballade (in G minor, Opus 23) was a little rushed, but that's the only quibble I have for the excellent, illuminating performance.

There were two encores- another waltz by Chopin, and then, oddly Grenados' "Andaluza," - a Spanish Dance that didn't quite fit the theme, though like everything else, it was marvelously played.

Patrick Vaz has a brilliant stream-of-conscious take on the evening here. The well-attended concert was presented by San Francisco Performances.