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Edvard GRIEG (1842 - 1907)
Concert Overture, "In Autumn," Op. 11(1866) [11.09]
Concerto for Piano & Orchestra in a, Op. 16 (1907) [29.24]
Håvard Gimse, piano
Symphonic Dances, Op. 64 (1897) [31.05]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Bjarte Engeset
Recorded at Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland, UK, 15 May 2003
Notes in English and Deutsch
5.1 stereo 44kHz/24Bit surround. AC-3 and DTS tracks encoded 5.1 surround.
DVD-Audio playable on DVD-Audio and DVD players
NAXOS 5.110060 [71.38]



Comparison Recordings:
In Autumn, Beecham, RPO [ADD] EMI CDM 64751
In Autumn, Dances, etc. Abravanel, Utah Symphony Orchestra [ADD] Vox CDX 5048
Concerto, Rubinstein, Previn, LSO [ADD] Decca "London" NTSC LD 071 200-1
Concerto, Katchen, Kertész, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra [ADD] "Double" Decca 460 831-2

I have always loved the In Autumn Overture and considering the number of similar pieces written since some others must have also. The classic Beecham performance is still supreme. The Abravanel performance is in stereo and quite good, but the string sound is raw and astringent. This new performance has the best sound, but the overall dramatic outline of the work does not emerge and hence it lacks impact. If you have either Beecham or Abravanel, no need to replace them yet.

If you don’t like the Grieg Concerto, you’re not alone: "We have experienced only displeasure and disapproval for the vulgarities and absurdities assembled under the pretext of the national Norwegian character"...(Edouard Bernsdorf) "Has anyone noticed how awful the people from the North become when they try to be Mediterranean? ... the piece is not really so individual at all: it begins with an imitation of Schumann and ends with something worthy of Excelsior*...I have never been able to understand why there are fragmentary interpolations of fanfares of warlike trumpets which generally announce the arrival of a little cantabile section at which we are meant to swoon ... (Claude Debussy**) I suppose I don’t actually dislike it but I have heard it a lot and have laughed myself sick over the Hoffnung Music Festival [review] parody so that even when listening to it "straight" I can still hear all the silly little riffs from that satire and can’t help at least chuckling. It was through his chamber music that I eventually came to really respect and admire Grieg as a composer. And, remember, he was an indirect ancestor of Glenn Gould.

Gimse and Engeset turn in a fine performance of the Concerto here by apologising for nothing and playing with intelligence, grandeur, and mystery, as though it is a new masterpiece they’ve just discovered. If this isn’t the best version ever done, it can stand proudly alongside any of them. Katchen’s performance is more aggressively masculine, more self-consciously virtuosic, even brash, and the sound is closer and actually more dynamic than the DVD-Audio (but not quite so clear, of course). In the Katchen performance the quiet passages are not so much mystical or romantic interludes as moments of grateful repose before we have to get up and fight again. But there is no retreat from the brilliant excitement of the climaxes.

The Previn/Rubinstein performance is probably the best overall, not the best sound, not the most exciting, but the best crafted and with the unfair advantage of having a video track. It first captured my attention as a bad cassette recording of a television broadcast, and when the laserdisk finally emerged, I was bowled over all over again.

The really fine performance on this disk is the Symphonic Dances which are played with just the right balance of aggression and repose, drama, and lift, and here the sound is at its best also. You might find you actually like these old chestnuts better than you thought you did.

*I assume he meant the Longfellow poem, not the Whitman poem.

**translated by Richard Langham Smith. Debussy was apparently offended because Grieg had cancelled an engagement in France in outrage over the Dreyfuss affair. Debussy was after all a royalist.

Paul Shoemaker

 



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