“It’s GRIEG to Me” = GRIEG piano works – Findlay Cockrell, p. – Findlay Recordings

by | Nov 8, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

“It’s GRIEG to Me” = Troll Suite; Suite “From Holberg’s Time,” Op. 40; Piano Sonata in E Minor, Op. 7; “Spring” Suite; 3 Lyric Pieces – Findlay Cockrell, piano – Findlay Recordings FC-01, 59:42 [www.findlaycockrell.com] ****:
Findlay Cockrell (b. 1935) is a pianist pedagogue of some fame, particularly in the upstate New York area like Albany, Schenectady, and Troy, where he has taught and organized various music societies. In his notes to this all-Grieg album (rec. 1994), he rather underestimates the number of major pianists who have relished this composer’s works–Glenn Gould, Zoltan Koscis, Aldo Ciccolini–not to mention the more classic artists like Percy Grainger, Walter Gieseking (whom he does mention), and Eva Knardahl. Obviously, the various books of Lyric Pieces, 1867-1901, supply much of Cockrell’s collations of pieces he calls “suites.”
Cockrell’s keyboard (Steinway) sound, courtesy of engineer Robert Turchick, can be intensely bright, even shrill; but his opening “Troll” Suite of selected Lyric Pieces–Wedding Day at Troldhaugen; The Little Troll; Notturno; and March of the Trolls–demonstrates his capacity for quick wrist articulation and varies degrees of touch, rapid staccati and block chords, including a sweet legato. Cockrell’s playing remains sober, sound, and certainly on a level beyond the mere “academic.” The Notturno shows off a finely honed trill and Cockrell’s canny pedaling. The wicked March of the Dwarves must be Grieg’s equivalent of the Khachaturian Sabre Dance.
For those who know only the orchestral (string) version of the Holberg Suite, the piano arrangement will have its charms, beginning with the active Prelude, which easily serves as a kind of toccata. One might make the case that the suite intends to capture the affect of the clavecinists Rameau and Couperin, as well as the spirit of J.S. Bach. The Sarabande assumes a dignified and noble posture; the Gavotte enjoys a clarity of articulation and brisk fluency quite polished. If Cockrell reminds me of anyone else, it would be another American pianist noted for his supreme lucidity of expression, George Copeland. The taut control exhibited in the Air maintains its basic pulse and piquant affect, at once. Another gaudy toccata finds a vehicle in the closing Rigaudon, which loses a bit of its rusticity that we find in the violin version of the opening statement. But the wealth of repeated notes and rapid chords places the virtuosity on a level with Liszt’s La Campanella.
The E Minor Sonata has something of Schumann’s aggression about it, cross-fertilized by Beethoven and Grieg’s own idiosyncratic harmony. The engaging lyricism of the Andante molto occasionally hints of grander passions in hybrid alchemy with Grieg‘s halling forms of his native Norway. The martial Alla Menuetto engages in some metrical shifts that captivate; its trio section has that naïvely bucolic air that Grieg communicates so well. The finale seems to revert to methods we know from Schumann, martial and syncopated. At several moments we can detect, even among the stentorian chords, the influence of Chopin.
 
For his “Spring” Suite, Cockrell selects three pieces from Grieg’s Op. 43, coupled to the Dance of the Elves, Op. 12, No. 4. The “To Spring,” Op. 43, No. 6 remains required playing for every Grieg acolyte. “Butterfly” was a Gieseking staple; Cockrell moves it with a full eye on its predecessor, Schumann’s “The Prophet Bird” from his Op. 82 set. “Birdie,” Op. 43, No. 4 flutters with the requisite number of feathers. What makes the “Dance of the Elves” a “spring piece” I know not, but if you believe in fairies, all is possible. Grieg’s “Gade,” Op. 57, No. 2 takes the name of the composer Niels Gade and makes a mellifluous anagram, much as Bach did with his own name. “Canon,” Op. 38, No. 8 both imitates Bach and points to Hindemith at the same time. Cockrell concludes with Grieg’s “Arietta,” Op. 12, No. 1, a deceptively simple song worthy of Schubert.
Despite the dated cover art and the entire vanity-press production qualities, the disc manages to transcend the “gifted dilettante” status and deliver quite thoughtful and technically refined performances.
Gary Lemco

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