Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor

Gramophone Sun 15th June 2014

A survey of recommended recordings of Grieg's Piano Concerto

The Gramophone Choice

Coupled with Schumann Piano Concerto

Leif Ove Andsnes pf Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Mariss Jansons 

EMI 503419-2 (59‘ · DDD) Buy from Amazon

It was the Grieg Concerto that first made the name of Leif Ove Andsnes on disc in 1990 (see reissue below). The interpretation remains broadly the same, except that speeds are now rather brisker. However many times he’s performed the Grieg, Andsnes retains a freshness and expressiveness that always sound spontaneous. That inspirational quality is more markedly perceptible with the new version’s faster tempi, but the expressive flights remain just as broad. In that contrast, he’s firmly supported by Jansons and the Berlin Philharmonic, with playing not just refined but dramatic too in fiercely exciting tuttis. Schumann’s cello ­melodies are gloriously warm, with textures in both works admirably clear, and Andsnes fully responds to Schumann’s espressivo and ritardando requests.

Though both Stephen Kovacevich (Philips) and Murray Perahia (Sony Classical) are equally spontaneous, they tend not to be quite so free in their expressive flights; EMI’s finely balanced digital sound and the playing of the Berlin Philharmonic are also in this version’s favour. ­Andsnes also offers slightly faster basic speeds than his rivals; particularly enjoyable is the free-flowing tempo for the central Andantino grazioso of the Schumann, which you’d never mistake for a simple Andante.

Additional Recommendations

Coupled with Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No 2 Schumann Piano Concerto 

Orchestra of Opera North / Howard Shelley pf

Chandos CHAN10509 (79’ · DDD). Buy from Amazon

What a good idea to add to that favourite among LP couplings Saint-Saëns’s most Bachian concerto, No 2. And the pleasure doesn’t stop there. Howard Shelley is one of those musicians who quietly goes about his pianistic (and now conductorly) business without grabbing the limelight except for the odd award, but who is consistently impressive, unfailingly musical and only goes into the studio when he has something to say about a work. That is certainly the case here. 

It’s a particular delight to hear a reading of the Schumann as fleet and joyous as this one. These are intimate performances, an effect no doubt enhanced by the fact that Shelley directs from the piano. Intimate but also sharply characterised. And when virtuosity is required, Shelley provides it in spades. Take the finale of the Schumann: textures are wonderfully transparent, the dotted rhythms are perky and precise, and there are plenty of striking colours from the orchestra (which throughout the disc proves itself a fine ensemble, with some particularly outstanding wind-players).

Shelley is just as persuasive in the Grieg, coaxing from the orchestra a real sense of narrative, some lovely oboe-playing and allowing the big tunes due space but never over-indulging them. The concerto’s irresistible yearning quality is well caught too, particularly in the central movement, where he is almost a match for Lipatti. Again, tempi are generally fleet, and Shelley pays attention both to the marcato marking of the finale and its folk tinges without overstatement. These are certainly performances to put alongside the classics.

Technically, the Saint-Saëns is an ideal vehicle for Shelley’s fingery kind of pianism and he is exceptional in the Allegro scherzando, the movement that out-Mendelssohns Mendelssohn. Again, the orchestra is utterly focused. The recorded quality here, as elsewhere, is exemplary.

Coupled with Schumann Piano Concerto   

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli pf New Philharmonia Orchestra / Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos

BBC Legends mono/stereo BBCL4043-2 (69’ · DDD/ADD). Buy from Amazon

Somehow you feel it must be possible to deliver the hackneyed opening flourishes of the Grieg Concerto with real abandon and impetuosity, to get the orchestra to respond to them with genuine ardour, then for the soloist to combine flow, virtuoso dash, fantasy and noble eloquence and to crown the structural highpoints in a way that lifts you out of your seat. Yet until you hear a performance like this one you may never quite believe it can be done. A sense of joyous rhapsody buoys up Michelangeli’s playing from first note to last, yet everything is founded on a bedrock of high intelligence, taste and natural authority. And I nearly forgot to mention the fabulous tone-colours he draws from the instrument. His slow movement is by turns balmy and ecstatic, and the finale has terrific drive. Scarcely a phrase that does not sound newly minted; never a note that sounds contrived or unspontaneous. And the virtuosity … ! If your hair is not standing on end in the finale’s coda I suggest an urgent medical check-up. Forget the boxy recording and the hissy background. This is a performance that entirely merits the hysterical cheers that greet it.

Coupled with Schumann Piano Concerto   

Murray Perahia pf Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Sir Colin Davis 

Sony Classical 82796 92736-2 (60’ · DDD). Buy from Amazon

Murray Perahia admitted to a delight in the ''inspirational heat-of-the-moment'' of a live recording in his interview with ES in these pages (Gramophone, May 1987). Though there are no claps, coughs or shuffles to confirm the presence of an audience, we're told on the label that both concertos were in fact recorded live at Munich's Philharmonie Gasteig during the course of the last two years.

Of the two works, I thought it was the Grieg that was better served by the immediacy and warmth of his response, whether through rhythmic bite in livelier dance tempo or total surrender to lyrical nostalgia elsewhere. Never is there the slightest sacrifice of his customary artistic sensitivity or keyboard finesse. But I was delighted to discover that someone so dedicated to Mozart Beethoven and the light-fingered Mendelssohn in the concerto field could so patently revel in Grieg's unabashed sentiment and bravura too.

Explore: 

Gramophone Subscriptions

From£64/year

Gramophone Print

Gramophone Print

no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£64/year
Subscribe
From£64/year

Gramophone Reviews

Gramophone Reviews

no Print Edition
no Digital Edition
no Digital Archive
no Events & Offers
From£64/year
Subscribe
From£64/year

Gramophone Digital Edition

Gramophone Digital Edition

no Print Edition
no Reviews Database
no Events & Offers
From£64/year
Subscribe

If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2017