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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Ballad for Edvard Grieg (documentary film);
Ballade in G minor op.24
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
Piano concerto in A minor op.16
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Ole Kristian Ruud
Lyric Pieces – Arietta op.12 no.1; Norwegian Melody op.12 no.6; Folk Tune op.12 no.5; Homesickness op.57 no.6; At Your Feet op.68 no.3; Wedding Day at Troldhaugen op.65 no.6
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano)
EMI CLASSICS 5121289 [140:00]


This material, originally produced by Norwegian television, makes a somewhat curious hybrid DVD. 

Firstly, a 53-minute film traces pianist Leif Ove Andsnes’s year-long “attempt to reach the heart of a masterpiece.” Contending that the op.24 Ballade is so laden with the composer’s personal emotions that one must delve into Grieg’s life to comprehend it fully, Andsnes takes us on a journey. From Bergen’s public library and the first draft of the score - “I get a sense of how much he struggled with this” - we visit Leipzig, Copenhagen, Rome, Paris and London, before ending up – complete with piano! - on a Norwegian mountaintop. 

It’s an interesting, if brief, guide to Grieg’s life and career. Andsnes is engaging and unpretentious, though his claims that the different facets of Grieg’s life and personality encountered on his journey significantly modified his approach to the music are not entirely convincing. 

Secondly – and perhaps the main attraction for potential purchasers - we see Andsnes in performance at the Grieg Hall, Bergen (op. 24 and op.16), and in the sitting room of Grieg’s Troldhaugen home. 

The wistful, rarely heard G minor Ballade is one of the composer’s most challenging works. Written at a time of great personal distress following his parents’ deaths, it encompasses a wide emotional range before achieving its ultimate tone of resignation. Grieg never performed it publicly – merely playing it privately for his publisher was distressing enough - and, even though Andsnes has immersed himself in the composer’s music for many years, he considers that he has only recently come to terms with its complexity and introspection. 

He has, on the other hand, been long associated with the A minor concerto and appears here with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom, as long ago as 1991, he made the first of his two CD recordings. This is a spontaneous sounding reading, both lyrical and grand as appropriate, adding nothing new to either CD version but still useful as a visual record.

The Lyric Pieces - notoriously dismissed by Debussy as “pink bonbons stuffed with snow” - are performed on Grieg’s own Steinway. Gilels’s classic recording demonstrated how subtle changes in pianistic colour - as well as in microphone placement, according to his sound engineer - can add immense character to these brief musical pictures. While Andsnes’s accounts do not reach that exalted level, they are beautifully conceived and immaculately performed, as well as accompanied by an engaging commentary. 

Andsnes’s many admirers will love this DVD, while others will certainly pass a few hours in his company most informatively and enjoyably. 

Rob Maynard

Note: Leif Ove Andsnes will be performing Grieg’s Ballade at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday 10 March 2008.


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