Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor; Symphonic Dances; In Autumn

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WORKS: Piano Concerto in A minor; Symphonic Dances; In Autumn
PERFORMER: Håvard Gimse (piano); Royal Scottish NO/Bjarte Engeset
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557279
This disc creates an auspicious beginning to Naxos’s Grieg Edition. Thomas Beecham’s recording of the concert overture In Autumn is justly famous for its dramatic flair, but Bjarte Engeset and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra are every bit as satisfying, with a taut but dynamically restrained (and palpably impish) sense of momentum and surprise. The Symphonic Dances, too, fare well; Beecham’s account of the second dance may more obviously cherish the music, but Engeset’s performance persuades with verve, sensitivity and a feeling that the performers are genuinely engaged, so that the overall effect transcends mere attractiveness. Given that the Piano Concerto is one of Grieg’s most popular works, it would be unreasonable to expect even a fine performance to dispel allegiance to the numerous memorable recordings that have appeared over the years. In the event, both the performers’ conception and the recorded sound divert attention away from the customary view of the piece as a display vehicle for the soloist. Håvard Gimse plays elegantly, with a clear sense of phrasing and articulation and, as in the purely orchestral works, Engeset portrays Grieg as an atmospheric proto-Impressionist. To this end, the piano is recessed into the orchestral texture a bit more than in many rival recordings. Stephen Kovacevich’s is a perpetually fresh account of the work into which a greater sense of pianistic virtuosity and prominence is injected; at the other extreme from Gimse’s pastel hue is Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli’s astonishingly fervid brilliance (BBC Legends). David Breckbill