Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54 (1845) [30:51]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 (1868) [31:50]
Pascal Devoyon (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Jerzy Maksymiuk
rec. St. Augustine's, Kilburn, March 1990
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 50999 2 28368 2 3 [62:54]
If you can get past the Oh, no, not again reflex when you see the headnote, you'll discover freshly considered performances of both these warhorses, from artists working in a true collaboration.
In the Schumann, after the woodwinds and then the piano have presented the opening theme - colored ruminatively by the piano - the mobile continuation of it in strings and piano is brooding and contained. Its turbulent undercurrent is held in check until it erupts into excited tremolos at 1:31. In the course of the movement, Devoyon gives the high, soft figurations a fetching lightness, though the tone occasionally hardens on upper tones, while Maksymiuk's baton draws soft-edged attacks and clean releases from the strings. This reaps benefits in terms of both warmth and clarity. The important clarinet solos are sensitively rendered. The Intermezzo receives a nuanced performance, spellbinding in the aspiring second theme. It is played with light, transparent tone, the cellos lyrical but not thick. Soloist, conductor and orchestra seem immensely to enjoy the bounding finale. The horn calls at such points as 2:57 are however too bashful - nearly inaudible - but the string accompaniments elsewhere enhance the movement's rhythmic buoyancy.
Grieg's concerto is a larger-scaled score in the grand Romantic manner, and the artists adjust accordingly. Devoyon more strongly weights the tone in the chordal writing - compare the opening cadenza here with the similar flourish that launches the Schumann - while availing himself of even more opportunities to lighten the texture in high, quiet passages. Maksymiuk draws bigger-boned tuttis from the LPO, and occasionally - if not frequently enough - brings the woodwinds well forward, to good effect. The cool, crisp tone of the solo flute is ideal; the principal horn remains reticent, but comes through at the peak moment at 1:34 of the Adagio. The spirit of collaboration is a little less sure here: there's a consistent hesitancy at big cadences, as if the conductor wasn't sure the soloist was ready. Only when the trumpet allows the driving triplets to "hang fire" going into the final coda is the performance compromised.
The sound is attractive, with enough stereo separation to clarify the rising string theme in the Schumann's slow movement, as it moves from cellos to violins - a nice touch.
Despite the comparatively modest "names" involved, this is one of the more readily recommendable versions of this popular coupling. Itís worthy to stand alongside the Lupu/Previn (Decca). One can only regret that RCA-BMG-Sony-whoever has never seen fit to pair the great Arthur Rubinstein's classic accounts of these scores: the cultivated Schumann with Giulini - or the more spontaneous earlier reading with Krips, which I discovered in the Philips "Great Pianists" series - alongside the ringing, lyrical Grieg with Wallenstein.
For whatever reason, CfP bills the Grieg first on the booklet's front cover and on the disc itself. The program order is as I've listed in the headnote.
Stephen Francis Vasta