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Arthur de Greef (piano)

Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 16 (1868)
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Sonata No 2 in B flat minor Op 35
Waltz No. 1 in E flat Op. 18
Waltz No. 5 in A flat Op. 42
Waltz No. 6 in D flat Op. 64 No 1
Waltz No. 11 in G flat Op. 70 No1
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Soirée de Vienne No. 6 arr. FRANZ LISZT
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Serenata in D Op. 15 No. 1
Etude in G Op. 18 No. 3
Waltz in E Op. 34
Arthur de Greef (piano)
Royal Albert Hall Orchestra/Landon Ronald, in the Grieg Concerto
Recorded 1926-29

Louvain-born Arthur de Greef spent about two years as a Liszt pupil. His distinguished performing career was matched by an equal commitment to teaching and in that capacity he taught for many years at the Brussels Conservatoire. This particular release is notable for the Grieg Concerto because the composer was a friend and known admirer of de Greef and had been since their first meeting in 1889 when the pianist performed under Grieg's baton for the first time. It's true that Grieg extended the same compliments to Percy Grainger and to Severin Eisenberger, both of whom, incidentally left recordings of the Grieg Concerto, but it remains true to say that de Greef was the longest lasting association of the three pianists and that it was he who made the first complete recording of the work (beating Friedman by a year and eclipsing the previous, cut versions by de Greef himself and Wilhelm Backhaus). His concerto repertoire seems to have been, deliberately, rather circumscribed but well tailored to show his gifts - both Liszt concertos, Saint-Saëns' G minor, Franck's Variations symphonique and the Grieg. De Greef was, in all respects, an intensely musical, non-sensationalist, eloquent and impressive musician and whilst not being averse to some of the interventionist tactics of his contemporaries (retouching of the score) remained sympathetically self-effacing.

His Grieg Concerto is incisive, intelligent and unflamboyant. The opening movement whilst broadly sober is still sufficiently vigorous, tonally expressive and with some delightfully witty pointing of the line. It's true that the accompaniment from the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra is, well, flabby and there are a number of miss hits along the way, as well as some modifications to and departures from the score by de Greef (generally to do with increased sonority). The end of the Allegro moderato however is notable for its heavily determined and powerfully sense of tension. De Greef can't do much in response to the groaning portamenti of the string section of the orchestra - if you object to the Hallé's portamenti of about this period (say roughly 1924-1932) you'll find the Manchester band cleanliness itself in comparison. But his phrasing is affectionately engaged, nothing too excessive, and it's probably not his fault, and more that of the recording level, that he sounds simply too loud. Lest he be thought too gentlemanly, de Greef interpolates a device of his own at the beginning of the last movement. If Hofmann can introduce rolled chords into the slow movement of the Beethoven Concerto in G then de Greef can thrown in an outrageous glissando here - otherwise this is well nuanced and steadily impressive playing - athletic but not supercharged, not showing off either (and did I detect acoustic era brass doublings here and elsewhere?). His trills are not the most leonine - but he compensates by really keeping the pedal down at the end. This is, all in all, a most important and thought-provoking performance.

Elsewhere we have some more evidence of his stature. His rubati in the Chopin B flat minor sonata are certainly a little idiosyncratic, but this is personable and personalised playing. It's certainly sober considered in the light of his more heroically inclined pianistic contemporaries but that's not necessarily a bad thing. There are uncomfortable moments in the Scherzo, and concerns about the rhythm but he improves later on. The funeral march is gravely noble without a hint of the fractured or frenzied about it but the Presto has a few more moments of digital uncertainty. This can I think best be demonstrated by the unusually high number of takes required (as high as take twelve for one side - I think it has to be said that his technique had considerably slackened since his youth, if, indeed, it had ever been that good). I liked the E flat Waltz, finger slips notwithstanding, and the A flat Waltz is genuinely charming and colourful. The Waltz in G flat is well characterised whilst his Schubert-Liszt is strong and tonally varied, those Lisztian roulades subsumed not outsize. His rubato (not something one often mentions in relation to him but one should) is deliciously apposite in Moszkowski's Serenata - a joyous performance - and the same composer's Waltz in E is delightfully sprung, with nice accents, well judged diminuendi, tight rhythm along with a judicious amount of elegantly humorous swagger.

Transfers sound quite splendid and the notes are by Donald Manildi. De Greef is probably little more than a name now - if that - so it's good news that these recordings are in the catalogue and especially so in relation to Grieg. There's always a place for imaginative refinement.

Jonathan Woolf

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