Grieg (The) Complete Piano Works
Norwegian pianist Eva Knardahl's recordings of Grieg's complete music for solo piano, mostly recorded in Sweden's Nacka Hall and here collected together as a posthumous tribute to the artist, were a milestone when first released on LP at the end of the 1970s. An oeuvre of which one part was almost too well known and the remainder hardly ever considered outside of Norway was available to be heard, as Grieg surely hoped, as an entity.
The backbone of the collection is the 10 books of 66 Lyric Pieces. Beautifully described in these pages by Bryce Morrison as a “confessional diary filled with bittersweet confidences”, they occupied Grieg between the mid-1860s (the decade that would end with the first version of the Piano Concerto) and 1901. In this series of often forward-looking impressionist miniatures that have fascinated as many great pianists as they have repelled, Grieg dwelt on his infidelity to his beloved country or even to his sometimes less than beloved wife, or on his creative frustrations, or on his sorrow about the loss of relatives.
To them Knardahl brings a forthrightness and colour - and sometimes a rustic brio - that would stop Debussy's “pink bonbons stuffed with snow” jibe dead in its tracks. If she tends to downplay the sweetness of the melodies, it seems in order to bring out the “Ibsenesque” quality that Glenn Gould (a typically iconoclastic and trenchant admirer of this music) liked to champion. Intriguingly, 20 years later - in an age far less self-conscious about letting Romantic music speak out its emotions - it's this very sweetness which is a prominent, and idiomatic, feature of Leif Ove Andsnes's selection of the Pieces on Grieg's own piano (EMI, 4/02).
Occasionally Knardahl's quest for an unvarnished Grieg becomes cool and measured - a historian proposing a thesis rather than an artist throwing herself into recreative performance. The rival complete set by Einar Steen-Nøkleberg (made by Naxos's Norwegian wing in the 1990s) can be fierier, less intellectual. Knardahl's set has the concentrated feel of a survey of the entire opus and maintains a high consistency and idiom of performance. It also contains gems like the first version of the Piano Concerto (audible differences begin in the first bar), a neatly classical view of the Holberg Suite and extensive notes by Grieg scholar and editor supreme Dag Schjelderup-Ebbe.