Grieg: Piano Concerto (CD review)

Also, Lyric Pieces. Javier Perianes, piano; Oramo Sakari, BBC Symphony Orchestra. Harmonia Mundi HMC 902205.

In the event you didn't know, Javier Perianes (b. 1978) is a Spanish concert pianist, who has won any number of prizes and played with many of the world's leading orchestras and conductors. Although he has done over half a dozen solo albums, he has recorded only a couple of pieces with orchestra. This disc of the Grieg Piano Concerto with Maestro Oramo Sakari and the BBC Symphony Orchestra is one of them. To be fair, however, he still goes it alone in the accompanying Lyric Pieces for solo piano.

Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) wrote his Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, in 1868, his first and only piano concerto. Odd, perhaps, given that Grieg was also a pianist. Anyway, with its wonderfully big opening moments and hints throughout of Norwegian folk music, the concerto quickly became one of the staples of the piano concerto repertoire.

The first movement opens with a famous and dramatic timpani roll, complete with cascading crescendos from the piano. Perianes captures the theatrical effect of these flourishes with energy galore, and, indeed, the whole of the first movement follows closely the excitement set out in the beginning. Tempos remain moderate; intonation is well nuanced; transitions, as into the second subject, are smooth and fluid; and Perianes seems always attentive to Grieg's designs.

The performance, in essence, is as big as they come, and Harmonia Mundi's close-up miking makes it seem all the bigger. Thus, if it's a grandiose reading you're looking for, this one is as massive and ambitious as they come. As I say, Perianes attacks the opening Allegro with vigor, practically banging the keys through the floor. And Maestro Sakari and the BBC Symphony accompany him with a flawless vitality of their own.

Javier Perianes
The second movement should be hushed and lyrical and continue to portray Grieg's ideas on the beauty of nature. Happily, Perianes balances the more robust sections of the score with an honest, gentle lyricism in these quieter parts. The middle of the first movement and this following Adagio sound lovely, and the final movement is as dashing, colorful, and beautiful as anyone could want. (Incidentally, Harmonia Mundi divides the second and third movements differently than we have come to expect, actually starting what most of us consider the final movement in the middle of the second track. The disc booklet provides no explanation.)

For a coupling, Perianes gives us eleven of Grieg's Lyric Pieces for solo piano. It is a good representative sampling of these little works, of which Grieg wrote sixty-six over a period of some forty years. Here again Perianes displays his softer, more-sensitive side, each piece sparkling. These are very Romanic, melodious works, which the pianist carefully executes with a straightforward delicacy and refinement. There is no hint of sentimentality about his playing. Still, when the occasion calls for an energetic virtuosity, as in "The March of the Trolls," he is on top of the situation. As a pianist Perianes can be both exciting and poetic, qualities that serve him well.

Producer Ann McKay and engineer Neil Pemberton recorded the Concerto live at the Barbican Centre, London in October 2014, and producer Martin Sauer and engineer Tobias Lehmann recorded the Lyric Pieces at Teldex Studio Berlin in June 2014. As with most live recordings, the engineers miked the concerto quite close up, especially the piano, which looms very large, practically in one's face. The orchestra, too, seems much too close, making for excellent detail and impact at the expense of its picking up some midrange brightness and edge. Fortunately, the producers edited out any applause, and audience noise is practically nil. Still, one gets a rather one-dimensional presentation, with good left-to-right stereo spread but almost no depth, air, or room ambience. The solo piano pieces, however, sound excellent, with a slightly more distanced perspective and more room resonance to give the instrument a greater natural warmth.


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 more than 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.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
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.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa