There are two world premiere recordings here according to the booklet documentation. To have the Homage March from Sigurd Jorsalfar in piano duet – Grieg’s own four-hand arrangement – is enjoyable enough but the main business is the Concerto.
This is partly Grieg’s own work and partly that of Károly (Carl) Thern, whom as Anthony Goldstone’s own notes point out was an Austro-Hungarian composer, conductor and pianist. There’s no evidence that the two actually met. Grieg’s contribution, in the full score, was to allow the pianist to play through the tuttis by means of a piano reduction of the orchestral part. Thern later arranged the orchestral music – when both orchestra and solo instrument are playing – for piano. The result of this fusion is a work for two pianos. The complete score for two pianos was published in Leipzig in 1876 eight years after the concerto had been completed.
I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed or pleased but I found the experience of listening to the resultant work highly congenial. Humphrey Lyttelton once wrote, in another context, that he found the task of identifying a famous tune from a ruthlessly pared down arrangement rather like trying to recognise an old friend from his skeleton. Obviously there’s no chance of that here. We get instead clarity and a keen insight into the compositional process. It was actually rather worrying how quickly the ear adjusts to the two piano sonority and one either absorbs the unusual medium or else projects the orchestral patina from it. Usually one hears unexpected things. My own ear doubtless benefited the two pianos with a warm cello burnish in the first movement but it’s the finale that proves the most diverting. It clarifies much of the orchestral writing that in performance one tends to elide in favour of the piano’s romantic bravura. The folkloric elements are also that much more clear, although the slow movement naturally suffers the most from the reduction, well though the Goldstone-Clemmow play.
Grieg arranged two four-movement suites from Peer Gynt – here we have the Suite No.1, arranged in 1877 and 1878. The birdsong in Morning Mood is warmly evoked and the Death of Ase brings suitable gravity. The Norwegian Dances were written for piano duet so it’s not so much of a culture shock to us to hear them thus. They certainly get an exciting work out here, dynamic in the First and full of scurrying detail in the Second with its outer sections insouciantly projected. The Homage March makes a suitable contrast, full of a certain static grandeur. The Mozart sonata has a second piano part arranged by Grieg in 1877. He probes some chromaticisms, most especially in the Andante, where the bass part is sometimes quirkily filled in. It makes for a suitable disc mate for his own compositions.
The recording, though made in a church, is actually very well judged. The playing as noted is buoyant and sensitive by turns; this duo has a real flair for the unexpected. As such this makes for an unusual perspective on a much-abused warhorse – with the added attraction of some equally diverting companion works.
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