Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Edward Rosser (piano)
rec. January-May 2012, Fraser Performance Studio, Boston, USA
CONNOISSEUR SOCIETY CD4276 [77:46]
There is no such thing as a bad Grieg Lyric Pieces album. This music is so instantly attractive that it can withstand nearly any approach, and I enjoy just about every recording I’ve heard. But there are a few truly memorable Grieg Lyric Pieces albums. Emil Gilels made one. Edward Rosser has made another.
Rosser is a pianist based in the Boston area, where (according to Google Images) he has a habit of wheeling an upright piano out into the street. He spent the better part of two decades un-learning the traditional physical piano-playing technique and learning the Vengerova Technique. Isabelle Vengerova taught her students to keep the fingers close to the keys, emphasizing movement of the wrists to control tone. The result is meant to be unusually expressive playing with supreme control of the piano’s colours and dynamics; a Vengerova pianist should be able to create more shades between forte and piano than you thought possible. Her students included Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, and the still-living Abbey Simon and Menahem Pressler.
This technique, and the very different artistic vision it entails, has always set Edward Rosser apart. His first Connoisseur Society record compiled the late or final piano works of a number of famous composers, and was a 2010 MusicWeb Recording of the Year; his follow-up, dedicated to Schubert, is notable for the slowest-ever D. 960 sonata slow movement, a hypnotic declaration of just how inventive this pianist is.
The new Grieg Lyric Pieces album is Rosser’s best disc yet, partially for a technical reason. The record label has cleared up sound quality issues which affected the Schubert release, and we are now back in the realm of state-of-the-art recording which brings forth all the beautiful sounds of the Hamburg Steinway D. And of beautiful sounds there is a near-infinite supply on this disc.
It’s a very personal release, not least because of the music selected. I’ve reviewed three Grieg Lyric Pieces albums which appeared in 2015. Janina Fialkowska’s is very good indeed, and, like Emil Gilels before her, it starts with the Arietta (the very first work) and ends with Remembrances (the very last). Then Javier Perianes’s album appeared, only slightly less impressive, and he exactly the same thing. Edward Rosser, however, is a contrarian. He puts the Arietta at the end. His ordering is totally original and, for the way it carefully considers key changes and transitions, it is inspired. You will notice, as soon as the second and third tracks, that he is able to leap across the books of miniatures to find connections and natural pairings between them.
There are 29 Lyric Pieces in total here, a generous collection that fills 78 minutes. Among them are quite a few which you normally only hear in recordings of the complete set, but also quite a few favorites. Berceuse, Op. 38 No. 1, is one of the greats, as is this tender performance. When I listen to Rosser’s performance of the Cradle Song, Op. 68 No. 5, I become convinced that it is my favorite of all these pieces, so ethereal are its quiet moments. Phantom, Op. 62 No. 5, has a transporting impressionist haze (courtesy of judicious pedaling) that brings to mind Debussy. When the famous Arietta finally arrives at the end, Rosser has a habit of slowing a bit at the end of each phrase, but the luminous piano tone makes this quirk easy to forgive.
I shouldn’t imply that everything here is tenderness; there are many of Grieg’s dance selections, like Grandmother’s Minuet and a number of waltzes. The waltzes and folk dances are perfect crystalline works, played with vigor, often barely sixty seconds long. Even a bit of poetry like Little Bird is thrilling for the precision of Rosser’s rhythm and the assertiveness of his left hand.
If I must make a quibble: the record label has provided English-translations of piece titles on the back cover, which lists each track. These titles do not match those provided by Edward Rosser in his illuminating and clear booklet essay, so when Rosser praises the “Halling”, you must deduce that this is “Norwegian Dance” (track 9). And, if another quibble is called for, the outer sections of Wedding Day at Troldhaugen don’t have the celebratory power, or warm concert-stage acoustic, you can find in other recitals.
But, though this recital may be studio-bound, its intimacy is a strength. Very few of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces reward a “big” or “profound” treatment; at their very best, they feel like sweet-nothing love letters being written for your ears only. And that closeness, that personal communication, is very much on display here. The best Grieg recitals combine an intimate artistic confession by the performer with a close affinity for the composer’s spirit. This CD is one of the best.