It’s probably difficult to remember today, given how communication is so easy and information so accessible, that the assimilation of orchestral music (new or otherwise) back in the late 1860s (the time of Grieg’s Piano Concerto, as originally conceived) would have been through studying a score, attending a concert, or performing it for oneself at home courtesy of a transcription for “domestic” use. A pianoforte would have been an essential part of the furniture for any self-respecting family. Whether the average household would have run to two such instruments is another matter; those affluent enough and with a pianist able to tackle a concerto like the Grieg would have needed two pianos to get an idea of the invention and fabric of the work.
This arrangement by Grieg and Károly Thern (1817-86) isn’t a recast of the work for two pianos but one in which the solo part is accompanies by another piano, the orchestral writing “reduced”. It works well enough, and this recorded account is admirably clear-sighted. Presumably Anthony Goldstone is the soloist – the presentation is a little bereft of information (such as naming the producer, engineer, recording day and month). The reproduction, while powerful enough, can bored on the blowzy and presents the “orchestral” piano firmly on the right and slightly distant (and muted), with the soloist more dominant on the left. The music, intact if in black-and-white terms, survives very well, even if the listener’s inner ear tends to supply the “colour” that this very familiar piece is used to.
Grieg’s music for Peer Gynt is no less familiar. Again, one “hears” the orchestra while listening to Grieg’s piano duet version, Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow (husband and wife) present both “Morning” and “Death of Ase” with feeling; “Anitra’s Dance” has a nice sense of buoyancy and interplay between the musicians, and “In The Hall of the Mountain King” sounds gratifyingly spooky until malevolent shenanigans take hold. This is colourful music made skeletal but survives the “do we now need to hear this music like this?” test for two main reasons: that the music is still good and because the artistry of Goldstone and Clemmow brings the music to life.
The pianists return to two pianos for Grieg’s additional part for Mozart’s C Major Sonata, the so-called “sonata facile”. (Believe me, it’s not!) Grieg’s intention (in this sonata and in others) was to update Mozart for contemporary ears but without altering what Mozart had written. The “second” piano part is recognizably Griegian and it works remarkably well – well enough to have attracted Richter and Leonskaja to make a whole record of Grieg’s “additions” to Mozart. Goldstone and Clemmow make a strong case of Grieg’s accretions, save a couple of points where Mozart loses out.
Norwegian Dances was actually written for piano duet (Hans Sitt made the now better known orchestration). This sounds like an original and is played with gusto, vividness and sensitivity by this duo. The “homage March” (recorded, like the Concerto, for the first time, as arranged) may miss the orchestra but the music’s spirit and soul are undiminished. An interesting release then – and “interesting” shouldn’t be taken as a euphemism on this occasion – that is well recorded, if slightly variable in sound, and which is probably self-recommending to all interested parties. Goldstone supplies a readable and learned booklet note.
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