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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Complete Solo Piano Music

CD 1: Lyric Pieces (Volumes 1-4). [74:12]
CD 2: Lyric Pieces (Volumes 5-7). [72:47]
CD 3: Lyric Pieces (Volumes 8-10). [66:40]
CD 4: (6) Poetic Tone-Pictures, op 3; (25) Nordic Folksongs and Dances, op 17; (3) Pictures from Folk Life, op 19; Ballade in g, op 24. [77:54]
CD 5: (4) Piano Pieces, op 1; Sonata in e, op 7; Improvisations on Two Norwegian Folksongs, op 29; (12) Pieces Based on His Own Songs, opp 41 and 52. [76:57]
CD 6: (4) Humoresques, op 6; Five Albumleaves, op 28; Moods, op 73; From Three Piano Pieces: The Dance Goes On and Gnome’s Tune; From Holberg's Time, op 40. [75:23]
CD 7: (19) Norwegian Folkdances, op 66; Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak, EG 107; (17) Norwegian Peasant Dances, op 72. [75:22]
Gerhard Oppitz (piano)
Rec. 1993. Germany. DDD
BMG-RCA RED SEAL 82876 60391 2 [7 CDs: 8 hours, 39 minutes]


This exemplary recording by Gerhard Oppitz of the complete solo piano music of Edvard Grieg was made in 1992. I say "exemplary" because while Herr Oppitz plays it all very well, he does not erase the memory of superb individual recordings (of the Lyric Pieces especially) played by others (Walter Gieseking, Emil Gilels and Daniel Barenboim, to name but three).

That having been said, the discs are well laid out, with the most popular items, the ten books of Lyric Pieces, occupying the first three discs. These 66 pieces, written from the mid-1860s to the end of the 19th century exemplify Grieg’s output for the piano in microcosm. The last two volumes contain some of the best and most beloved music Grieg ever wrote. Of course, Volume 5, Numbers 1, 6, 2, 4 and 3 (the Lyric Suite) and From Holberg's Time (better known as the Holberg Suite), were both orchestrated by the composer, as were a number of other individual pieces.

With the exception of Disc 4, each succeeding disc contains a few pieces from the composer’s early career, and proceeds chronologically through to the end of it.

I wish to single out the 4th disc because it is pivotal, the Nordic Folksongs and Dances, op 17, written just after the beloved piano concerto in a minor, op 16, are required listening for those enamored of its sweeping majesty. The disc concludes with the Ballade in g minor, one of Grieg’s most important works. Nearly nineteen minutes in length, it is the most substantial track in the entire set. Listen as the elegiac central theme in the variations becomes dramatically intensified and dies away to quiet resignation. I have played this piece for friends who attend piano recitals frequently and asked them to name the composer. Liszt, Brahms, and even late Robert Schumann have been just some of the responses from those unfamiliar with the work.

Those with an affinity for Grieg’s songs will find themselves longing for the vocal parts while listening to the last twelve tracks of Disc 5. The most well known are To Spring, I Love Thee and Solveig’s Song from Peer Gynt.

The central portion of Disc 6 contains the composer’s last cycle, Moods (1903-05), completed just two years before his death. It begins with Resignation about his age, segues to Hommage à Chopin, and is followed by a Student’s Song for the new generation. The suite which concludes the disc has an interesting history. Despite the fact that Ludvig Holberg (1684 - 1754) lived most of his life in Denmark and was considered the father of Danish literature, his birthplace was Bergen, Norway, and for the bicentenary of his birth, Norwegians celebrated heartily. Notwithstanding his stronger relationship to Denmark, Norwegians were pleased to acknowledge Holberg, and Grieg, also a Bergen native, was in on the planning for the event. He wrote two works for the celebration, the first is an all but forgotten work for male voices, unimaginatively named Cantata for the Unveiling of the Holberg Memorial. The second for piano, and of more lasting consequence, entitled From Holberg's Time: Suite in Olden Style. Grieg himself, a more than capable pianist, premiered it a few days after the dedication of the memorial. The suite is in five sections and was intended by Grieg to recall the dance suites from Holberg's lifetime. The work was such a popular success he arranged it for string orchestra. It is primarily known in that form today. The piano version does, however, give us insight into the composer’s creative process.

Mr. Oppitz gives us an accurate reading of the notes but for an inspired performance, one needs to seek out the BIS recording (#110) by Eva Knardahl (Volume VII from her entirely complete works for piano solo). The nice thing about doing so is that, aside from the Holberg Suite, obtaining this disc involves NO other duplication. How is that possible, you may ask? The answer is that the RCA set only includes music originally written for piano solo. The BIS discs include music written for piano 4 hands (or piano solo) the Waltz-Caprices, op 37 as well as works for orchestra (or piano 4 hands or piano solo) the Two Elegiac Melodies, op 34 and Nordic Melodies, op 63 plus the "Prayer" and "Temple Dance" from an incomplete opera Olav Trygvason, op 50 all of which fill out CD #110.

The nineteen Norwegian Folkdances and seventeen Norwegian Peasant Dances which occupy the 37 tracks of Disc 7 represent the composer’s final journeys through the ethnomusicology of Norway. The journey would never have been undertaken had it not been for his friendship with fellow composer Rikard Nordraak (1842-66) who introduced him to a work called Norwegian Mountain Melodies by Lindeman. Nordraak’s untimely death at age 24 occasioned Grieg to write the Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak. It is in a minor and beautifully pays tribute to the composer’s departed friend and colleague. It is rightly juxtaposed between the two large sets of folk material.

The Folkdances include five "Cradle Songs", but the rest are mostly "dancelike" although the two longest "It Happened in My Youth" and "I Wander Deep in Thought" seem less terpsichorean than the others. The Peasant Dances, on the other hand are mostly Hallings, Gangers and Leaping Dances with a few Bridal Marches thrown in. It is all very festive and concludes the set with appropriate panache. This set is recommended for all lovers of romantic piano music.

Gregory W. Stouffer

 



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