Ballad for Edvard Grieg (CD review)

Includes the Piano Concerto in A minor; Ballade; Lyric Pieces. Leif Ove Andsnes, piano; Mariss Jansons, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI 0946 3 94399 2 8.

One often thinks of the Piano Concerto in A minor of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) as big and brawny, a common misconception, of course, based on the way the work begins. But it contains a good deal of lyrically poetic material, too, and those are the parts emphasized by pianist Leif Ove Andsnes in this reissue of his 2002 recording. The present disc, Ballad for Edvard Grieg, which EMI released several years ago, commemorates the one-hundredth anniversary of the composer's death.

Andsnes provides a wonderful performance of the Piano Concerto, a little less grand and weighty than some other interpretations, but subtle and nuanced, bringing out all the flavor of the Norwegian composer's refinement and grace. The reading may not surpass those of Kovacevich (Philips) or Lupu (Decca or LIM), but it's in the same league and a bit more meditative.

The mood of the Piano Concerto complements the companion works, too, the Ballade in G minor, newly recorded, and the Lyric Pieces, six of Grieg's sixty-six miniature tone poems for piano that Andsnes recorded in the drawing room of the Grieg Museum in 2001, using Grieg's own piano.

Further augmenting the excellent performances is EMI's sound, which in the Piano Concerto is close enough to provide detail and force, yet distant enough to provide a degree of pleasant ambient bloom. If anything, the EMI engineers handle the solo piano pieces even better; they sound quite natural, quite realistic, and quite well defined.

Adapted from a review the author originally published in the $ensible Sound magazine.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa