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Butterflies and Illusions
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
From Peer Gynt, Op. 23 (1876)
Anitra’s Dance (Anitras Dans) [3:02]
From Lyric Pieces I, Op.12 (1867)
VI. Norwegian (Norsk) [0:51]
II. Waltz (Vals) [1:43]
III. Watchman’s Song (Vektersang) [2:43]
IV. Fairy Dance (Alfedans) [0:36]
VII. Album Leaf (Albumblad) [1:23]
VIII. National Song (Fedrelandssang) [1:36]
From Lyric Pieces II, Op.38 (1884)
II. Folk-song (Folkevise) [1:36]
VII. Waltz (Vals) [0:57]
From Lyric Pieces III, Op.43 (1886)
I. Butterfly (Sommerfugl) [1:14]
II. Solitary Traveller (Ensom vandrer) [2:00]
III. In my Native Country (I hjemmet) [2:02]
IV. Little Bird (Småfugl) [2:11]
From Lyric Pieces IV, Op.47 (1888)
IV. Halling [1:25]
From Lyric Pieces V, Op.54 (1891)
III. March of the Dwarfs (Trolltog) [2:56]
From Lyric Pieces VI, Op.57 (1893)
III. Illusion (Illusjon) [3:06]
IV. Secret (Hemmelighet) [4:58]
VI. Homesickness (Hjemve) [4:30]
From 25 Norwegian Folk-songs and Dances, Op.17 (1869)
I. Spring Dance (Springdans) [2:12]
II. The Swain (Ungersvennen) [0:46]
VI. Wedding Tune (Brurelåt) [1:40]
From Lyric Pieces VII, Op.62 (1895)
II. Gratitude (Takk) [3:56]
From Lyric Pieces VIII, Op.65 (1897)
II. Peasant’s Song (Bondens sang) [1:33]
V. Ballad (I balladetone) [3:30]
From Lyric Pieces IX, Op.68 (1899)
II. Grandmother’s Minuet (Bestemors menuett) [1:51]
V. At the Cradle (Bådnlåt) [3:00]
From Lyric Pieces X, Op.71 (1901)
I. Once Upon a Time (Det var engang) [4:11]
III. Puck (Småtroll) [1:36]
From Peer Gynt Suite No.1, Op.46 (1888)
The Death of Åse (Aases død) [4:03]
Mie Miki (accordion)
rec.  January 2007, Länna Church, Sweden
BIS-CD-1629 [70:20]

 


Grieg on a squeezebox? I had my reservations too, but as the modern concert or classical accordion is a sophisticated beast with a range close to that of a grand piano I was prepared to be pleasantly surprised. Obviously the solo piano pieces can be played ‘straight’ on the accordion keyboard … and that includes the Peer Gynt extracts, for which Grieg made his own piano arrangements. For the sake of comparison I also sampled Emil Gilels’ selection of Lyric Pieces on DG Originals 449 721 2, a long-time favourite of mine.

Tokyo-born Mie Miki took up the accordion at the age of four, going on to study in Germany and win a clutch of major awards. She has already recorded other accordion works for BIS, including Gubaidulina’s Seben Worte for cello, bayan (accordion) and strings.

So how does Grieg fare on this unwieldy instrument? The Lyric Pieces (Lyriske stykker) consist of 66 miniatures spread over 10 volumes and more than three decades.  But before we get there Miki kicks off with a suitably upbeat and colourful Anitra’s Dance from Peer Gynt, Grieg’s incidental to Ibsen’s play. It’s clear from the outset that the accordion is very well recorded indeed, with a nicely extended bass and a sparkling treble. It’s also clear that Miki has a natural affinity for the music’s rhythmic elements.

The first of the Op. 12 set, Norwegian, has some delectable staccato playing, while the Waltz is well sprung and full of character. I particularly liked the Watchman’s Song, with its long, slightly mournful, lines. The dynamic contrasts may be a little less subtle than one is used to on the piano but it’s no less appealing for that. Miki has changed the order of pieces in this collection, which makes for greater contrasts between them.

I was curious to hear how the accordion, not usually the most agile of instruments, copes with Grieg’s faerie music. I need not have worried, as Miki brings off Fairy Dance rather well, with plenty of point to her playing. The National Song, with its arresting opening, has real weight, warmth and accuracy of intonation – no wheezing old squeezebox here. Folk-song from Op. 38 is similarly blessed, sounding delightfully rustic into the bargain. There is more virtuosic playing in the ensuing Waltz, whose rhythms are more than a little reminiscent of a fairground hurdy-gurdy.

Miki’s Butterfly swoops and flutters with surprising delicacy, although perhaps the more subtle dynamic shading of the piano is harder to bring off here. That said, the melancholy tread of The Solitary Traveller is rather better suited to the accordion. I do like Miki’s nicely contrasting selections, which gives the listener a chance to sample the accordion’s expressive possibilities. Just listen to the Little Bird, a miraculous miniature that has all the deftness and lightness of touch that one might expect from a piano.

The only piece from Op. 47 is the Norwegian dance Halling, which gave me a chance to dip into the Gilels disc. As good as Miki’s playing undoubtedly is the inner detail and subtle rhythms are just not as clearly conveyed as they are on the piano. By way of a riposte Miki then launches into a marvellous, rollicking March of the Dwarfs from Op.54. And typically she follows that with something altogether different, the restless, shifting harmonies of Illusion. This is real nachtmusik, as is Secret, which has an uncertain, spectral quality we have not yet heard. The range of sonorities Miki extracts from the accordion is astonishing and those rising figures in Secret are strangely haunting as well.

Perhaps uncharacteristically Miki follows those twilight items with Homesickness, a somewhat angst-ridden piece that eventually modulates into a cheerier mood at 1:50. These happy memories are soon clouded by the grey skies of winter, so the Spring Dance from Op. 17 comes as a welcome, invigorating change. The rhythmic felicities of this music are superbly realised and one can’t fail to be impressed by the precision and articulation of Miki’s playing. The Op. 17 selection ends with the grave – one might even say slightly dour – Wedding Tune.

Op. 62 is represented by Gratitude, one of the longer items on this disc. Miki achieves some striking orchestral sounds but these lengthier pieces do tend to highlight the sometimes relentless nature of the accordion’s delivery. As versatile as it is, it cannot seriously challenge the piano when it comes to musical nuance and inflection. That is certainly true of the Peasant’s Song from Op.65, which strikes me as somewhat generalised on this instrument. Ditto Ballad, which at three-and-a-half minutes is apt to outstay its welcome.

Thank goodness for Bestemors menuett, grandmother’s nimble little minuet from Op. 68, which Miki dispatches with great charm and wit. This is the kind of music that seems to play to her strengths, rhythmic and colouristic. The Cradle Song is not particularly successful though; for all its calming cadences it has a distracting stridency in places. The two pieces from Op. 71 are more appealing, especially Once Upon a Time, with its bright colours and galumphing bass. As Miki has already demonstrated faerie music holds no terrors for her and she characterises the mischievous Puck very well indeed.

Miki returns to Peer Gynt with Aase’s Death. Even though this is a funereal piece it acquires an extra layer of gloom on the accordion that makes it sound rather dreary. Not the ideal piece to end an otherwise engaging collection, but it seems churlish to complain when Miki so obviously relishes – and rises to – the challenge.

On the whole Miki chooses her pieces with sensitivity, but even she cannot transcend all the limitations of the accordion - the inevitable swells and surges, though judiciously managed, become a little wearying after a while. That said it’s an interesting programme persuasively played and atmospherically recorded.

Dan Morgan

 

 


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