Grieg: Piano Concerto (CD review)

Also, Schumann: Piano Concerto. Leif Ove Andsnes; Maris Jansons, Berlin Philharmonic. Warner Classics 0724355756220.

EMI originally released this album in 2003, and now that Warner Classics have taken over the EMI catalogue you'll also find it under the Warner label. Whichever label you buy, these are fine performances, done up in fairly good, albeit live, sound.

Anyway, the perennial pairing of the Grieg and Schumann Piano Concertos will always bring joy to the hearts of music lovers, as will the thought of hearing them performed by so estimable a combination as pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, conductor Maris Jansons, and the mighty Berlin Philharmonic. The result in both concertos is quite satisfying, if not quite reaching the pinnacles of glory enjoyed by Kovacevich/Davis (Philips), Lupu/Previn (Decca), Perrahia/Davis (Sony), or Curzon/Fjeldstad (Decca). Still, close enough.

Andsnes reveals in the Grieg a performance much like the one he recorded for Virgin some years earlier, a performance more lyrical than showy. This is fine, but it tends to make the Grieg a little less bravura, a little less grand a statement than the recordings mentioned above. Nevertheless, the pianist makes up for it with the creativity and incisiveness of his playing. He is a virtuosic pianist, and the Berlin Philharmonic under Jansons is as magnificent as ever.

I found Andsnes a tad more playful in the Schumann, rendering that earlier work a bit more fun than usual. Regardless, there's no denying the power of both works in such capable hands, and, as I say, with the excellent support of the Berlin players and some highly sympathetic conducting by Jansons, Andsnes's quick, light, rhapsodic visions come across lovingly.

EMI's sound is also rather good, some of the best these pieces have enjoyed, full and detailed, if a trifle close live. Note, too, that the bass could be stronger, especially in the Schumann, and that the piano in both works appears somewhat larger than life across the sound stage. Still, these are not big issues; if you're a connoisseur of these two piano favorites, and you haven't heard Andsnes's Berlin performance, you might want to do so.

Bottom line: If you're new to these works, you may want to consider Kovacevich as a first choice, remastered on a Philips mid-priced line of classics.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

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Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa