Two Disc Review: Grieg

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Grieg
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi; Hyperion

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Lyric Pieces; Piano Concerto
Javier Perianes (piano);
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
Harmonia Mundi HMC 902205   
70:02 mins
 

Lyric Pieces
Stephen Hough (piano)
Hyperion CDA 68070 
73:08 mins

For Debussy, listening to Grieg’s music evoked ‘the bizarre and uncanny sensation of eating a pink bonbon stuffed with snow’. Yet the Chopin of the North was not without his august admirers. ‘What charm, what inimitable and rich musical imagery,’ enthused Tchaikovsky, going on to extol the warmth, vitality, and ingenuity of his music. And if Grieg borrowed from Schumann and Mendelssohn, he also presaged aspects of the stylistic revolution which Debussy was to usher in. The sound-world he created was uniquely his own: he modestly described his 60-odd Lyric Pieces composed over four decades as ‘an intimate slice of life’.

These miniatures are usually savoured as encores rather than absorbed in bulk. Stephen Hough fills his CD with 27 of them; Javier Perianes hedges his bets by leavening 12 with a performance of the Piano Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sakari Oramo’s direction. Both pianists bookend their selection with the early song-without-words ‘Arietta’ and the late piece which explicitly harks back to it, ‘Remembrances’.

Perianes uses the pedal to create a honeyed luxuriousness for the slower pieces, notably ‘Notturno’ and ‘At Your Feet’, but when he reaches the middle section of ‘Homesickness’ he conjures up a delicate hallucination of the village leaping-dance remembered from youth. He finds plangent hints of Schubert in ‘Solitary Traveller’, and generates intense nostalgia with the aid of the folk song in ‘Once Upon a Time’. His performance of the Concerto is workmanlike, but its effects are often blurred by his over-pedalling, and by Oramo’s tendency to schmaltz.

Stephen Hough’s approach is on a different plane, as his account of the concerto (on Hyperion) might lead us to expect. His playing of the Lyric Pieces has an aristocratic refinement, with his control of the minute ebb-and-flow of his sound being a pleasure in itself. Here ‘Little Bird’ looks sweetly back to Schumann, ‘Bell-ringing’ boldly adumbrates Debussy, and the hackneyed ‘To Spring’ is delivered with chaste restraint; the dynamics in ‘Notturno’ are exquisitely terraced, and the staccato lines of ‘Grandmother’s Minuet’ are softened by sympathetic wit. Artistry of this order more than compensates for the limited emotional range of these unassuming little works.

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Michael Church