Grieg, Schumann Piano Concertos

Grieg, Edvard and Robert Schumann

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Two Heavyweights of the Piano Repertoire

While a student in Leipzig, young Norwegian Edvard Grieg heard Clara Schumann perform her husband's then-recent piano concerto, which was premiered in 1856. It was a eureka moment, and it inspired Grieg to work on a piano piece of his own. When he completed it, in 1870, Grieg took it to Franz Liszt, the reigning king of the Germanic piano, who according to legend played through it flawlessly, and made suggestions. The similarities between the two works made it a logical pairing on concert programs and recordings.

The two pieces are in the same key. They both start with a sudden orchestral flourish, then a descending piano figure that establishes the primary rhythmic motif of the opening movement. But as Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes observes in the liner notes of this crisp reading, the two pieces have vastly different resonances. "The Schumann is emotionally very complex—at times even schizophrenic, as if it's trying to pull you in different directions simultaneously. The Grieg, on the other hand, is passionate, extroverted, and childlike. It's more of a young man's piece."

Andsnes brings a discernible wonder—and a heart tuned to the romantic—to both works. The Grieg, which was recorded in a studio, finds him amplifying the composer's origins by riffling through the folk-dance themes (and extended fantasias built upon them) with a youthful spring in his step. The Schumann, recorded live, is more lyrical: An exchange between piano and oboe near the end of the first movement finds both musicians savoring the theme, while the rhapsodic second movement has a dreamy, unhurried air. This carries over into the finale, an extended power surge that requires the pianist to alternate between floral harplike runs and lines that are much more technically challenging. Andsnes simply eats these up.

The Berlin Philharmonic is exacting, as usual, and Andsnes counts on that. His darting flashes sometimes test the prevailing tempo, as if he's trying to see how far he can pull away before sending the orchestra off the track. This creates moments of exhilarating tension, but happily, no derailments.

Genre: Classical
Released: 2003, EMI
Key Tracks: Grieg: second movement. Schumann: first movement.
Another Interpretation: Murray Perahia: Great Pianists Series.
Catalog Choice: Schumann: Piano Works, Wilhelm Kempff. Grieg: Lyric Pieces for Piano
Next Stop: Leoš Janáček: A Recollection, Andras Schiff.
Book Pages: 327–328

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