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Nordic Music
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A Minor Op.16 [30:52]
Wedding Day at Troldhaugen [6.10]
Franz BERWALD (1796-1868)
Piano Concerto in D Major [20:35]
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Saul & David – Prelude to Act II Allegro marziale [5.55]
Ana-Marija Markovina (piano), Schleswig-Holsteinisches Sinfonieorchester / Peter Sommerer

Croatian pianist Ana-Marija Markovina is known for rediscovering rare piano music from the 18th and 19th Century and she has recorded cycles featuring the keyboard music of CPE Bach. In this recording she pairs the little known Berwald D Major Piano Concerto with the ubiquitous Grieg Piano Concerto. She is joined by the Schleswig-Holsteinisches Sinfonieorchester (SHS) under the baton of their principal conductor, Peter Sommerer.

There are many great performances of the Grieg concerto by artists such as Andsnes, Perahia, Lupu and Arrau. Markovina gives a reasonably accomplished performance of this great staple of the repertoire but she is not in the same league as these artists. After the opening timpani roll, the descending opening chords are powerful and imposing. In the ensuing section the SHS’s woodwind do a good job injecting momentum into the music. Markovina brings a refined touch and is highly expressive in her handling of the lyrical material. In the lyrical second subject the SHS’s cellos do an excellent job conjuring Grieg’s frozen vistas and Norwegian fjords and Markovina follows suit. Markovina’s playing of the cadenza is a little too measured and controlled - I would have liked to hear a wider dynamic range and more of the erupting turbulence. The SHS set the idyllic scene beautifully in the Adagio second movement and Sommerer’s tempo is spot on. The opening section on the piano is lovely although the ensuing piano figurations are a little too rigid. The horn solo is particularly gorgeous in this movement. Markovina makes heavy weather of the virtuoso passagework in the finale and it never really catches fire. Her playing is competent and assured but she perhaps suffers in comparison to some of the really great artists who have recorded this concerto. She redeems herself with an exhilarating and poetic performance of Grieg’s Wedding Day at Troldhaugen which she offers as an encore.

I was not familiar with Berwald’s piano concerto before listening to this recording. I enjoyed listening to it although, like much of Berwald’s music, it is engaging and pleasant without being particularly memorable. Following a short introduction in the strings, the piano enters and plays continually throughout the first movement. Markovina achieves a good balance with her orchestral partners and her handling of the demanding classical textures is highly assured and expressive. There is a lot of filigree ornamentation in the Andantino slow movement (think of a more classical version of a Chopin nocturne). Markovina balances passion and refinement in this movement and she handles the complex ornamentation well. The finale is the most memorable of the three movements with its dancing rhythms and witty ornamentation. Markovina really gets into her stride here playing with energy and brilliance and is ably supported by her orchestral partners. The SHS offer the short Prelude to Act II of Nielsen’s Saul and David as an encore.

The Berwald Piano Concerto is certainly worth listening to in this recording although this is not a front-rank recording of the Grieg Concerto.

Robert Beattie

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