Hommage a Grieg = BRAHMS: Variations on a Theme of Joseph Haydn; PLAAGE: Grieg metamorphosis; BJORKLUND: Hommage a Grieg; SAINT-SAENS: Variations on a Theme of Beethoven – Dena Piano Duo (Tina Margareta Nilssen/Heide Görtz), Vol. III – 2L 94 multichannel audio-only (Pure Audio) Blu-ray (DTS-HD MA 5.1 192K/24; PCM 2.0 192K/24) + SACD of same, 52 min. [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
I should begin by saying this is the cleanest and most realistic reproduction I have ever heard of a grand piano duo. I tried first the digital playback of the DTS lossless track, then the 192K PCM Stereo track fed thru my Oppo’s analog outs and using the ProLogic IIz height setting of my preamp, but ended up with the two-channel PCM feeding my Grado headphones, which I felt was the best of all. Unlike so many two-piano recordings, the separation of the two instruments was just right, so you could recognize which was which, especially on headphones. I again found the Blu-ray and SACD to sound just about identical.
The chosen program has of course a strong Norwegian bias. It is based on the idea of all four of these composers having had some sort of relationship to Edvard Grieg. Brahms and Saint-Saens were both friends of his, and Grieg invited Brahms to Norway to gain inspiration from the fjords for his Fifth Symphony. Many composers in the later half of the 19th century wrote works for two pianos and then later orchestrated them, and that was done with the Haydn Variations.
Wolfgang Plagge is an acclaimed Norwegian pianist/composer and he was involved in the production of these discs. His work is a collection of intertwined and free variations on Grieg’s “Watchman’s Song” from his Op. 12 Lyric Pieces. Unlike most such sets of variations, it does not begin with a statement of the basic theme, so you are kept guessing. The ten variations have a ghostly feeling about them, perhaps due to Grieg having mentioned in the booklet that was originally published of his Lyric Pieces that their middle section attempts to depict the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Terje Bjorklund began as a jazz pianist and later leaned towards serious art music. As with the Plagge work, his composition was commissioned by the Dena Duo. He regards it as an echo of both the sound and motif of passages in Grieg’s works. He includes subtle references to the Grieg Piano Concerto, the Ballade Op. 24 and the String Quartet, both in g minor. He also said his idea for the work was “Grieg meets Bartok, Stravinsky and Arvo Paart.”
The most traditional of the four pieces are the Variations by Saint-Seans, closing the program. The Beethoven theme comes from the Menuetto movement of his Piano Sonata in E-flat Major Op. 31 No. 3. After it is stated at the beginning it is followed by ten variations. The ninth is a complex fugue and the final variation proceeds at breakneck speed.