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Eyvind ALNAES (1872-1932)
Piano Concerto in D major Op.27 (1914) [31:33]
Christian SINDING (1856-1941)

Piano Concerto in D flat major Op.6 (1889, rev. 1901) [33:39]
Piers Lane (piano)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton
rec. Grieghallen, Bergen, Sweden, 4-6 November 2006. DDD
The Romantic Piano Concerto series, Volume 42
HYPERION CDA 67555 [65:12]



It’s a while since I’ve heard anything from the Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto series, so it’s been interesting to catch up with what they’ve recently been uncovering from the byways of musical history. Here, they’ve set out to show that there’s more to Norwegian piano concertos than the Grieg. Some specialist pianophiles will possibly have come across the Sinding concerto, as it’s had a couple of decent recordings in the past, including one on Vox’s – wait for it – Romantic Piano Concerto series, where stalwarts like Michael Ponti and Roland Keller tackled most of the repertoire. There has also been a much more up-to-date Norwegian recording coupled with the Symphony in D minor, which appears to have been deleted, so even the better known of these two pieces is likely to be really welcomed in this new performance. As for the Alnaes, I have to confess complete ignorance of him, so this one really was a voyage of discovery for me, and, I suspect, for many others.

So what of the quality of the music on offer? Well, as you would expect of big romantic concertos from this period, there are tunes aplenty, rich orchestration and bags of bravura fireworks from the soloist. Structurally they are pretty safe, keeping within the three movement norm, though the Sinding does use a more interesting Liszt-like cyclic form where the main theme undergoes metamorphic transformations. There are lots of audible influences, chief among them Wagner, which is not really surprising given that both composers finished their composition studies in Leipzig. There’s also Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, particularly in the Alnaes, which is a very attractive piece. The sleeve writer quotes a contemporary who describes Alnaes as ‘a healthy and true musician, keeping both feet on the ground and remaining firmly within a style accessible to his listeners’. Fair enough, and it’s beautifully scored, as for instance in the delectable passage for piano and cello at 6:16 into the first movement. The slow movement is perhaps not quite as tragic as the note writer suggests, and it has a glorious main melody. The finale’s drum roll opening immediately recalls Grieg, which might also be inevitable, but the light, waltz character is distinctly Viennese-flavoured. The big tune at 2:02 is more than reminiscent of variation 18 of Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody, so much so that one is brought up short to realize that the Russian’s piece came much later. The superbly committed playing of Hyperion regular Piers Lane definitely helps the work’s cause, as does Andrew Litton’s controlled yet vital accompaniment.

Sinding is pretty well known to the wider public purely for his piano miniature Rustle of Spring, so it’s always welcome in these cases to hear the ‘big’ works of such composers. Again Wagner, and this time Liszt, feature more overtly than the nationalism of Grieg and the note writer rightly mentions critics over the years drawing attention to the main theme’s similarity to a motif in Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, though it really doesn’t sound like deliberate cribbing. There is an attractive slow movement and rousing finale. If I have a complaint it concerns the rather thick scoring of the outer movements and the development of the material, which is simply less memorable than it perhaps might be in other hands. Again, the strong performance really helps to keep these doubts at bay and let us simply wallow in the sheer romantic splendour of it all. Hyperion’s engineers have captured the proceedings in warmly resplendent sound, fully in keeping with the music. Lovers of this type of repertoire can buy with confidence, particularly for the Alnaes, here getting its premiere recording.

Tony Haywood

 


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