Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2016
, J ean
p h o t o g r a p h y
Integrated and mature technique: Levit recording Rzewski at Funkhaus Nalepastrasse, Berlin, last March
C sharp minor Capriccio (No 5), with its swaggering cross-rhythms and passionate assertions, creates a miniature epic. It’s difficult to think of another performance that delineates the mercurial mood-swings of the C major Capriccio (No 8) with greater finesse and insight.
Delicacy and heartfelt sentiment characterise the gracious A major Intermezzo (Op 118 No 2), illustrating Plowright’s gift for evoking sentiment without sentimentality. The story told in the G minor Ballade (No 3) is filled with lean, mean, no-nonsense resolve, while the much-belaboured E flat minor Intermezzo (No 6) emerges here unequivocally powerful, its eloquence partly due to secco staccatos and crystalline textures.
The Waltzes, Op 39, for all their unfettered ebullience, present the same wealth of detail that characterises Opp 76 and 118. The Variations on a Hungarian Melody provide a charming overture to the programme. I have a feeling this is going to be the benchmark Brahms survey for some time to come. Patrick Rucker
Grieg Lyric Pieces – Arietta, Op 12 No 1; Berceuse, Op 38 No 1; Elegy, Op 38 No 6; Six Lyric Pieces, Op 43; Valse-Impromptu, Op 47 No 1; Melody, Op 47 No 3; Elegy, Op 47 No 7; March of the
Trolls, Op 54 No 3; Nocturne, Op 54 No 4; Bell‑Ringing, Op 54 No 6; Homesickness, Op 57 No 6; Sylph, Op 62 No 1; From Early Years, Op 65 No 1; Salon, Op 65 No 4; Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op 65 No 6; Sailors’ Song, Op 68 No 2; At Your Feet, Op 68 No 3; At the Cradle, Op 68 No 5; Summer’s Eve, Op 71 No 2; Puck, Op 71 No 3; Remembrances, Op 71 No 7; Homeward, Op 62 No 6 Stephen Hough pf Hyperion F CDA68070 (73’ • DDD)
Grieg may not be in the pantheon with the greatest but his freshness of invention continues to give his music a classic quality. He was a born lyricist and his piano pieces and songs established him as a master, not just a miniaturist, unfailingly strong, original and sensitive in their harmonic language. They are equally strong in refinement of rhythm as well. Schumann rather than Mendelssohn was godfather to the 10 volumes of Lyric Pieces, which carry on Schumann’s tradition of the ‘characteristic’ piece whose title so often conceals an intimate experience.
Stephen Hough’s selection of 27 is chronological, beginning with the ‘Arietta’
from Book 1 (1867) and ending with Grieg’s recollection of it in ‘Remembrances’ (‘Efterklang’) in Book 10 (1901). The pieces form a poetic piano diary running through his life. There are banalities, here and there, but the boldness and tenderness of the melodic ideas are paramount. You can play the CD through as a recital, compiled as it is with taste and enough concern for variety. Better though to make shorter sequences of the tracks and be drawn in more intently to Hough’s artistry and the cunning with which Grieg took so many choice features of Liszt’s and Wagner’s harmony, compressing them into small spaces and making them his own. He hated his student years in Leipzig and made sure his music after that would stay fresh and northern, and bang up to date.
The CD sits nicely alongside such classic selections as Emil Gilels’s of 1974 (DG, 3/75, 2/97) and Leif Ove Andsnes’s of 24 numbers played on Grieg’s own 1892 Steinway (EMI, 4/02). There is also Walter Gieseking from way back (EMI, 4/99): high-class sight-reading, one might say, but far from negligible. If an intégrale of all 66 is your goal (it would never be mine) there is Gerhard Oppitz (RCA, 4/94) and the respected Eva Knardahl (BIS, 11/87, 8/88). A tribute here is also surely due to Peter Katin, who died recently and did gramophone.co.uk
GRAMOPHONE AWards 2016 27