|Site review by ramesh June 16, 2010
|This is a surprisingly effective disc, which I'm rating highly for the simple reason that I've found it very enjoyable on repeated listening. A piano teacher friend also concurs. However, my high ranking is based on what this disc seeks to achieve, and these goals do not include the best possible presentation of a famous romantic warhorse for a full size symphony orchestra and virtuoso pianist.
The enterprising 2L company has expended immense efforts on the preparation of this release, including a dedicated website, at which full technical details can be found :
You must also peruse http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percy_Grainger for one of the most entertaining articles imaginable on a classical pianist. Here you will read that 'Grainger was a sado-masochist with a particular enthusiasm for flagellation... who donated to the University of Melbourne... 83 whips and a pair of his blood soaked pants,' and that 'he designed a crude forerunner of the modern sports bra for his Danish sweetheart.'
It is most regrettable that 2L in their quest for authenticity chose not to recreate the Grainger-approved pneumatic restraints for the orchestra on this recording.
Percy Grainger's 1919 Duo-Art music roll of the Grieg Piano concerto, which included a piano reduction of the orchestral parts, is one of the most famous specimens of this genre. Grainger had personally known the composer for a couple of years. Though the roll was made well after Grieg's death, the composer had apparently approved of Grainger's interpretations of his music. The Grainger piano roll has previously been recorded on LP and CD. Additionally, a relatively recent London BBC 'Last Night of the Proms' featured the BBC orchestra accompanying the piano roll, prefaced by a mock management announcement, 'Mr Grainger is indisposed today.'
I've never heard a piano roll reproduced with quite this fidelity as on this SACD/bluray release. [ The bluray, as with 2L releases, reproduces the SACD programme. It is stereo and multichannel audio only, without video content.] I have 10 other performances of the Grieg concerto on CD, including the most lauded : Dinu Lipatti's mono recording, the 1971 Stephen Bishop-Kovacevich performance [ The original release named the pianist as 'Bishop', and the later reissues call him 'Kovacevich' ], and the 1965 Michelangeli live concert on BBC Legends.
The most compelling performance of the Grieg which I've heard on SACD is the Bishop-Kovacevich interpretation, but this is currently a deleted Universal Japan SACD. The Grainger piano roll has reduced dynamic range. Ironically, this probably makes for more comfortable domestic replay than other versions, since one doesn't have to adjust the volume. The orchestra has no such dynamic limitations. The string complement is 7 first violins, 4 seconds, 3 violas, 4 cellos and 3 basses. This means that the sound recreated is probably closer to the smaller forces that the composer expected, especially in the early to middle part of his career in nineteenth-century Scandinavia.
Grainger's playing is brisk to the verge of jauntiness, especially in the slow movement, which is emphatically not the 'adagio' as marked. Prior to receiving this 2L release, the swiftest performance of the slow movement I'd heard was the glacially unsentimental Michelangeli. Grainger zips through this a good 30 seconds quicker, astonishing for a six minute movement. Grainger's passagework in all the movements abounds in rhythmic licence. There are numerous short accelerations which often make one wonder whether the piano roll was suffering speed distortions in replay until one hears the same mannerisms repeatedly. A couple of the 'expressive pauses' are so extreme that if these were made by somebody in a modern piano competition, the jury would have every right to mark down the interpretation as whimsical. I should add, however, that for those to whom this music is relatively unfamiliar, or who listen to plenty of jazz or other improvised music, that this Grainger recreation will seem fresh and unstuffy. Accordingly, I do not feel that the caveats I'm inserting about this vintage interpretation are by themselves detrimental. Just don't expect a 21st century music competition rendition : and this is not necessarily a bad thing with the complaints of cookie-cutter anodyne sameness. What you get in this 2L release is definitely something interesting and different.
Interestingly enough, this release includes a selection of Grieg's famous 'Lyric pieces' for solo piano, made by the composer himself on a 1906 roll, one year before his death, and one performance by Grainger. [ The 2L company website has further solo performances available as audio files.] The rhythmic license of Grainger's performance is also evident in Grieg's own versions, albeit to a lesser extent. Should you listen to these tracks without consulting the booklet notes, it would be hard to determine which is being played by the composer, or by Grainger. I have a recording of Sviatoslav Richter performing Op 65/6, and the composer is quicker, looser, freer, and altogether less severe in his rendition.
Grieg's C minor violin sonata is perfomed, with Rex Lawson on the pianola, in an unfussy way, yet still resonates with a vibrant, dramatic sweep.