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