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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Lyric Pieces: Bell-ringing, op.54/4, Cradle Song, op.38/1, Butterfly, op.43/1, Elegie, op.47/7, Melody, op.47[not 4 as given on the CD cover]/3, Secrecy, op.57/4, National Song, op.12/8, Home-Sickness, op.57/6, Brooklet, op.62/4, Valse-Impromptu, op,47/1, Grandmother’s Minuet, op.68/2, Vanished Days, op.57/1, March of the Dwarfs, op.54/3, Summer’s Eve, op.71/2, Elegie, op.38/6, Scherzo, op.54/5, Lonely Wanderer, op.43/2, Puck, op.71/3, Nocturne, op.54/4
Mikhail Pletnev (piano)
No details of location or date, but recording copyrighted 1994.
CDK MUSIC CDKM 1003 [67:44]


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In spite of their inescapable association with the classroom (most of these pieces are undemanding technically) and in spite of Debussy’s jibe that Grieg was "a pink fondant stuffed with snow", a number of pianists of the highest calibre have recognised the poetic content of the Lyric Pieces, which cover Grieg’s whole career and are in a certain sense his spiritual diary. One such pianist was Walter Gieseking who recorded a selection on 78s before the war and a well-remembered LP in the early ’50s. Another was Emil Gilels. I wish I could say that a third was Mikhail Pletnev but I am left very much in doubt as to his sympathy for many of these pieces, which he seems to want us to hear transformed through the fire of his own genius. Quite early on in the recital his Butterfly is an irascible creature beside Gieseking’s miracle of grace, but I listened about half the way with at least some pleasure. From track 11 it seems to me that he decides to kick the traces and not even try to give performances the composer would have recognised. The Grandmother’s Minuet is heavy and clumsy; perhaps that’s how he thinks grandmothers dance, but Grieg marked it "Allegretto grazioso e leggierissimo" so evidently he thought otherwise. Vanished Days is terribly drooled over for an "Andantino" while the dwarfs would have been panting to jeep up with his hectic tempo for their march (Grieg marked it Allegro moderato - Gieseking’s steady pace is just right). The Lonely Wanderer is just not musically eventful enough to take this lugubrious, stagnant tempo (Allegretto semplice is the marking, not Adagio espressivo) and while the famous Nocturne can just about hold the attention even given this Mahlerian treatment, what a relief to turn to Gieseking’s heartfelt warmth at a nicely flowing tempo. Pletnev seems to want to bring Puck into the motoric world of Prokofiev, a far cry from Gieseking’s impish little fellow – this piece was after all the inspiration behind Debussy’s own Danse de Puck. No, keep clear of this one.

Christopher Howell

 

 



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