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.


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

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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