GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16; 12 Lyric Pieces – Javier Perianes, p./ BBC Sym. Orch./ Sakari Oramo – Harmonia mundi HMC 902205, 70:02 (5/12/15) ****:
The 1869 Piano Concerto in A Minor by Edvard Grieg has had innumerable, great performances; and the list of legendary players embraces the likes of Percy Grainger, Dinu Lipatti, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Solomon, Artur Rubinstein, Gyorgy Cziffra, and Leif Ove Andsnes, to mention a few. Spanish virtuoso Javier Perianes (b. 1978) and Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo (b. 1965) collaborate (rec. 24 October 2014) in concert at the Barbican Centre, London in a reading brilliantly recorded, courtesy of recording engineer Tobias Lehmann. The first movement Allegro molto moderato, a stunning combination of militant cascades of sound and tenderly expressive melody, lends us many an exquisite tone-color as the keyboard blends with horn, bassoon, fluttering strings, and a resonant tympani.
Many would argue the true magic resides in the D-flat Major Adagio movement, whose melodic, spatially open harmonic sense imitates Chinese brush-painting effects, tinted by elastic mercurial impulses from strings, horn and keyboard, Perianes’ trill as dreamy as the surrounding strings. The suave progression of the Allegro finale will illuminate the Norwegian lalling into triple time with voluptuous sonority. The double octaves gain a fearsome propulsion up to the fierce cadence that ushers in a flute from Arcadia. The monolithic final pages, with their grand climax that fuses the dance to the secondary, melodic theme, achieve a wickedly lustrous effect.
Collectors of the Grieg Lyric Pieces will recall both the Artur Rubinstein and Emil Gilels inscriptions of selected moments from the sixty-six entries of miniatures the composer produced over thirty-five years. Perianes opens with the longest of his selections, the exquisite Kanon, Op. 38, No. 8 which manages a lilted nostalgia in spite of the strictures of the form. For transparency of effect, the Arietta, Op. 12, No. 1 proves most becoming, much in the liquid style of Mendelssohn. Papillon, Op. 43, No. 1, an old Gieseking favorite, shows Perianes off in A Major chromatic runs. The “Solitary Traveler,” Op. 43, No. 2 (1886) hints at later Debussy, the visual picture akin to Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Mists. The A Minor Melodie, Op. 47, No. 3 has a rocking motion that suggests Schubert or Borodin. The ensuing D Minor March of the Trolls and the quietly intimate C Minor Nocturne remain long-familiar via the Op. 54 Lyric Suite. Listen to what Perianes does with the middle section of the Troll’s March.
The last six selections extend the Northern magic of the occasion. The Heimweh, Op. 57, No. 6 applies a modal scale to the leaping-dance as ground text. Some of the passing harmonies convey the eeriness we ascribe both to Scriabin and late Liszt. More nostalgia ensues from two of the Op. 68: “At your feet,” No. 3 and “At the cradle,” the No. 5. The former, in D Major, plays in the manner of a Chopin nocturne that evolves into a passionate barcarolle. Marked Allegretto tranquillamente, the E Major “At the Cradle” possesses that simplicity of expression endemic to Grieg. The final two works date from 1901: Once Upon a Time, Op. 71, No. 1 places a folk song, “O beautiful Vaermland” into E Minor and has it progress into a springing dance typical of Norway. The sonority of Perianes’ upper register embraces a carillon sound. The last piece, Remembrance, Op. 71, No. 7 bears the marking Tempo di valse, and it might depict Peer Gynt’s melancholy last dance with Solveg, fading into the poetic aether.