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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 (1868) [29:44]*
Two Nordic Melodies, Op. 63 (1894-5) [12:57]+
Peer Gynt, Suites Nos. 1, 2 , Opp. 46, 55 (1875) [14:44]; [16:18]
Lilya Zilberstein (piano)
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Konserhuset, Gothenburg, May 1987, + June 1992, December 1992, and * March 1993

As part of its launch of yet another midpriced line - will it last any longer than its predecessors? - DG has extracted the most familiar items from Neeme Järvi's three-disc Grieg survey. The performances all have their moments, thanks to the Gothenburg ensemble's sensitive, stylish playing.  Sweden is not Norway - as John Culshaw amusingly reminded us in Ring Resounding - but a common "Scandinavian" musical sensitivity can nonetheless be felt in all these performances. The woodwinds frequently contribute a fresh, airy sound and authentic phrasing in the Piano Concerto. And in the first of the Two Nordic Melodies, the violins manage to sound a touch rustic in the midrange while taking on a polished sheen above the staff.
As the timing indicates, this isn't a particularly slow rendering of the Piano Concerto, but it's easy and unhurried in passages where others routinely press forward, and so leaves an expansive impression.  Lilya Zilberstein's work, however, is inconsistent. She's short of sheer power, but shrewd enough to work around those limits, building and pacing the first movement cadenza, for example, to suggest an almost epic breadth. On the other hand, big chords, such as those at the very opening, turn glassy, as does the climax of the uneventful central Adagio. She can inflect sensitively, but isn't always "tuned in" to the music's expressive possibilities: thus, she gauges the second subject recap nicely, but later the Finale's lyrical episode more or less slips away. It's a solid performance, but eclipsed even by the midprice competition, beginning with the Lupu/Previn account once available on Decca.
The Peer Gynt suites, too, are an on-again-off-again affair. The woodwinds again impress with their nuanced shaping of phrases in Morning Mood - where one would expect it - and the Arabian Dance - where one mightn't think of it offhand. Dotted rhythms are taut and tensile in the turbulent Abduction of the Bride and Peer Gynt's Homecoming. On the other hand, while Järvi's direct approach to Solvejg's Song, here performed sans soloist, mitigates the piece's sentimentality, he undercuts the power of his similarly forthright Åse's Death by hustling along its already quick basic tempo.

The Two Nordic Melodies are likely to be the only unfamiliar item for most listeners; they are pleasant enough, but hardly sufficient reason to buy the disc.
Generally, Järvi's unfussy naturalness is an asset, though he makes heavy going of the concerto's final coda, and is a bit overemphatic with some of the Peer climaxes. The sound, from chronologically separated sessions, is attractive, with a nice ambience enhancing the sound of those woodwinds.
Stephen Francis Vasta





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