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CD: Crotchet
Download: Classicsonline

Robert Riefling (1911-1988) - Great Norwegian Performers 1945-2000: Volume IV
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
CD 1
Piano Sonata in E major, Op. 109 (1820) [20:07]
Piano Sonata in A flat major, Op. 110 (1821) [18:37]
Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 111 (1821-22) [26:28]
CD 2
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major Op. 58 (1805-06) [35:06]
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major Op. 73 Emperor (1809) [40:16]
Robert Riefling (piano)
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Karsten Andersen (No.4)
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Gabriel Chmura (No.5)
rec. concert, Hakonshallen, Bergen, May 1979 (sonatas); concert, Oslo Konserthus October 1981 (Concerto No.5), September 1986 (Concerto No.4)
SIMAX PSC1833 [65:12 + 75:22]


Experience Classicsonline

Robert Riefling (1911-1988) is the subject of the fourth volume in Simax’s Great Norwegian Performers 1945-2000 series. He studied with Nils Larsen and with Karl Leimer in Hannover, later taking summer courses with Fischer and Kempff in Potsdam. His career grew in the mid-1930s and he reached the finals of the Queen Elizabeth competition in 1938, at which event Gilels won first prize.

On records he is perhaps best remembered for his Berwald, and for Grieg – the concerto and an LP of one of the violin sonatas. This makes the focus on Beethoven for this two disc set the more valuable. Simax’s notes concentrate on the philosophic underpinning of Riefling’s musico-aesthetic life, all of which makes for occasionally over-demanding reading. The same notes however do touch on some adverse criticism Riefling received, and this relates mainly to a certain cool quality in his playing. These radio broadcasts, from 1979, 1981 and 1986, two years before his death, offer some answers, and some amplification too.

The Concertos were taped in the 1980s. The Fourth, with Karsten Andersen directing the Oslo Philharmonic, is intellectual if, to use the word, cool. The winds are finely punctuated; Riefling’s tone is a touch glassy, and though it’s not quite as gaunt as late Serkin it inhabits a similar kind of sound world. He’s sparing of pedal and his avowedly unsentimental take and treble-oriented sonority lend the slow movement an aloof but not unattractive profile. Strong accents and rhythmic security underpin the finale. The Emperor again shows a – or a combination of his and the engineers – proclivity for bright tone. There’s some metrical plasticity in the first movement especially but with the piano rather too much in front of the orchestra balances are a little problematic. Chugging left hand pointing is a distinctive feature of the finale.

The sonatas come from a recital in May 1979. Here the recording is not truly flattering to Riefling’s tone but we can certainly hear quite enough detail to amplify the points made in the discussion of the two concerto performances. There’s a heavyweight but uningratiating quality to his playing that commands respect. One may find him tonally light, especially in the bass, in these works – especially in Op.109 - but the reserved nobility is avowed. His honest, if sometimes clangourous sonority doesn’t quite evoke enough in the Adagio introduction to the finale of Op.110. There is something anti-Romantic about aspects of his playing; the austerity is controlled, sometimes almost chiselled; occasionally it’s remote but never quite cold. The digitally refined treble trills in the Arietta of Op.111 are evidence of his tremendous touch, but this is not playing of obviously expressive largesse or reach. It posits a different awareness of the mechanics of the music and its external expression.

Given the foregoing this is a somewhat problematic release, but it is very well documented and revealing of Riefling’s musical ethos in this repertoire. 

Jonathan Woolf




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