Grieg - Chasing the Butterfly

The Steinway at Troldhaugen comes to life once more

Author: 
Bryce Morrison

Grieg - Chasing the Butterfly

Here on this handsomely presented and generously illustrated two-disc album is a true labour of love. Inspired by Edvard Grieg’s own playing, recorded in Paris in 1903, native Norwegian Sigurd Slåttebrekk and his “creative director” Tony Harrison seek to recreate a bygone performance style and tradition. In a detailed and extended essay they lament today’s smoothing-out of those tensions, nuances and intricacies inseparable from yesteryear’s great performances (they cite Rachmaninov, Rubinstein and Cortot, but also Martha Argerich, whose daring, sweep and charisma are of both the present and past). They seek to emulate rather than imitate such vibrant music-making. Tempi are invariably on the brisk side and Grieg’s own performances, heard very much through a glass darkly, are of a zest, freshness and freedom that themselves are at the heart of Slåttebrekk’s playing. His way with the Piano Concerto is magnificently assured and free of self-serving idiosyncrasy but it is in the Ballade that he achieves his greatest stature and distinction.

All lovers of Grieg’s piano music will know Eileen Joyce’s early selection of Lyric Pieces (Testament, 9/99), Gilels’s awareness of “a whole new world of intimate feeling” (the pianist’s own touching words – DG, 2/97) and, most recently, the recordings of Leif Ove Andsnes (EMI, 4/02). Yet even they hardly equal Slåttebrekk’s expressive intensity and scintillating virtuosity. Here Grieg steps out to produce a work of epic grandeur and Slåttebrekk’s way with its flashing northern lights and final desolate leave-taking are unforgettable. Played on Grieg’s 1892 Steinway in Troldhaugen, these performances are of a moving poetic empathy and musical devotion.

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