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Edvard GRIEG (1943-1907)
Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 (1888) [15:34]
Peer Gynt Suite No. 2 (1891) [17:22]
Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 16 (1869) [30:36]
Selected Lyric Pieces: Arietta and Elves’ Dance Op 12, Nos. 1 and 4 (1867) [2:34]; Butterfly and To Spring Op 43, Nos. 1 and 6 (1883) [4:42]; Notturno Op. 54, No. 4 (1861) [3:58]; Sylph Op 62, No. 1 (1891) [1:50]; Summer Evening Op. 71, No. 2 (1901)
Ronan O’Hara (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/James Judd (Piano Concerto); Mark Ermler (Peer Gynt)
rec. 1993, All Saints, Petersham
REGIS RRC 1218 [79:42]




The Grieg piano concerto is one of the true warhorses of the repertoire — it shows up in almost every orchestra’s program at some point each season and has been recorded countless times by true legends of pianism: Lipatti, Rubinstein, Entremont. Simon Barere died on the stage of Carnegie Hall while performing the work. It has even been recorded in its original version surviving from the time before Grieg incorporated some of the changes Franz Liszt suggested.

All of this said toward this one main point — with all these recordings still available, with so many performances currently scheduled for the world’s concert halls, why on earth buy a this reissued recording of the Grieg concerto? Moreover, why are people still recording it? Popularity of the piece aside, what on earth is going to make a new recording stand out from the massive pile of previous recordings? In the case of this release, part of it is the playing time. At 79:42, there likely isn’t even a quickly-played Grieg miniature that could have been packed onto this disc.

Another reason for this disc to stand out is its sound quality. One simply couldn’t expect any of the pieces represented here to sound any better than they do here. This, to some extent, is a double-edged sword in that at times the impact of the music is blunted — a sacrifice perhaps made intentionally to show all of these works as gorgeous, rather than as musical statements. Case in point is Aase’s Death in the first Peer Gynt suite. When the strings swell, when the death of Aase is imminent, when the music is supposed to dig at you - after all, someone is dying - the piece sounds simply, well, gorgeous.

One other thing about the Peer Gynt suites, though they are most often recorded as strictly instrumental pieces, they suffer in impact without vocals. I was introduced to these pieces in an early-eighties performance on Philips of the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus with Elly Ameling. Hearing this present version simply leaves me flat.

Overall, this disc offers very good performances, tastefully done, with a sound quality that is simply superb. Be prepared, however, for interpretations that are light on emotional impact.

David Blomenberg






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