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 Griegís 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 composerís 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
Griegís 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
Those with an affinity
for Griegís 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 Solveigís
Song from Peer Gynt.
The central portion
of Disc 6 contains the composerís 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 Studentís
Song for the new generation. The
suite which concludes the disc has an
interesting history. Despite the fact
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
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
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
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 composerís creative
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 composerís 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. Nordraakís
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 composerís 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