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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor (1868) [30:48]
Lyric Pieces (1867-1901)
1. Arietta, Op. 12/1 [1:25]
2. Kanon, Op. 38/8 [5:00]
3. Sommerfugl (Butterfly), Op. 43/1 [1:54]
4. Ensom vandrer (Solitary traveller), Op. 43/2 [2:20]
5 Melodi (Melody), Op. 47/3 [3:39]
6. Trolltog (March of the trolls), Op. 54/3 [2:59]
7. Notturno (Nocturne), Op. 54/4 [4:17]
8. Hjemve (Homesickness), Op. 57/6 [4:33]
9. For dine födder (At your feet), Op. 68/3 [3:03]
10. Badnlat (At the cradle), Op. 68/5 [3:27]
11. Det var engang (Once upon a time), Op. 71/1 [4:36]
12. Efterklang (Remembrance), Op. 71/7 [1:52]
Javier Perianes (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
rec. live, 24 October 2014, Barbican Centre, London (concerto); 5-6 June 2014, Teldex Studio, Berlin (Lyric Pieces)
Reviewed as a 24/96 download from eClassical.com
Pdf booklet included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902205 [69:53]

The Grieg concerto is one of those warhorses that, despite years of unstinting service, isn’t ready for the knackers’ yard just yet. On record it has attracted a long line of distinguished interpreters, from Solomon and Arrau through to Kovacevich and Andsnes; the latter has recorded the piece several times, most recently with Dmitri Kitaienko and the Bergen Philharmonic (Virgin). His earlier account, with Mariss Jansons and the Berliner Philharmoniker, includes a number of Lyric Pieces played on Grieg’s own piano (Warner). These miniatures, written over 34 years, are also well represented in the catalogue. I’ve always been fond of Emil Gilels’ classic DG account, but that’s now been supplanted by Stephen Hough’s splendid traversal for Hyperion (review).

The Spanish pianist Javier Perianes is new to me, but his concert reviews suggest he’s not to be ignored. That said, his discography is still quite small. Sakari Oramo, the BBCSO’s music director, needs no introduction; I‘ve reviewed his Nielsen symphonies (BIS) and his Norgård 1 & 8 for Dacapo; indeed, the latter was one of my Recordings of the Year 2014. He continues his Nordic odyssey with this Grieg concerto, recorded live at London's Barbican Centre. For comparison I’ve selected the Philips recording with Sir Colin Davis and Stephen Kovacevich; by happy coincidence that also features the BBC Symphony.

The concerto’s opening timp roll and the soloist's grand flourish make it quite clear that Perianes and Oramo are going for broke with this one. It’s not the tidiest of performances, but then it is live and taking a few risks is always preferable to playing it safe. The Spaniard certainly brings plenty of southern warmth and impetuosity to these cool northern climes, and that results in a more boisterous reading than usual. Davis and Kovacevich prefer a refined, seamless approach; however, the Philips sound - warm and full bodied - can seem rather moulded at times. By contrast the HM sonics are bright and excitable, but that does suit Perianes’ volatile playing style.

Heard straight out of the box as it were this newcomer didn’t make the strongest of impressions. Only after further auditions did I begin to enjoy Oramo and Perianes’ untrammelled music-making; goodness, they really do reinvigorate this well-worn piece. In such company Davis and Kovacevich are apt to sound old-fashioned – staid, even – emphasising as they do the concerto’s architecture rather than its impassioned content. That’s certainly true of the Adagio, where Perianes’ hushed first entry made my hair stand on end.

Kovacevich has a special way with these quieter, slower movements, but once again I found myself yielding to Perianes’ freer, more headstrong way with the concerto's middle movement. In fact I began to think Kovacevich too studied here, too focused on weight and line at the expense of the music’s rhapsodic elements. He makes up for that with a buoyant, virile finale that also reveals the age of this otherwise refulgent recording. The HM sound is very close, and that adds extra brilliance and bite to Perianes’ playing.

I suppose I’ve ‘imprinted’ on Davis and Kovacevich, who have always seemed unassailable in this piece. It’s still a fine performance, as well as being a reminder of a unique artistic partnership that produced, among other things, unforgettable recordings of the Beethoven concertos. I suspect some will feel Perianes is just too abandoned in this concerto, but then he does offer the listener plenty of bang for his buck. Equally uninhibited Oramo and his band seem happy to fling themselves into the mosh pit as well. Really, any moments of raggedness are entirely forgivable when the performance is this much fun.

Perianes’ Lyric Pieces bring out his – and the composer’s – more precise and pensive nature. The Spaniard is always crystal clear, phrases well and maintains a fine sense of proportion throughout. Dynamics are nicely shaded and his rhythmic skills are superbly demonstrated in the March of the trolls. Hough is even more thrilling and stylish here; he also teases out subtle shapes and colours more effortlessly than either of his rivals. Still, it’s a measure of Perianes’ prowess that he’s not far behind when it comes to the inwardness of Nocturne and the heartache of Homesickness.

Revisiting Gilels’ Lyric Pieces after many years I was struck by his crisp, rather patrician delivery. Not only that, he tends to manipulate the music rather more than I remembered. The Originals sound, while good, is rather dry. I suppose that could also describe Gilels' playing style, but then he can surprise you with a moment of tenderness or a lovely turn of phrase. Make no mistake these are distinguished readings, and all Grieg fans should hear them. Perianes’ recording, made in the Teldex Studio, Berlin, is warm and well balanced, but it’s no match for the one that Hyperion provide for Hough.

Large scale or small, Perianes’ Grieg demands your attention; a pianist to watch.

Dan Morgan
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