Grieg: Complete Symphonic Works Vol. 4 - Schuch, Aadland
Classical - Orchestral
Grieg: Piano Concerto; Symphony
Herbert Schuch, piano
WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln
The fourth volume of audite's complete recording of Edvard Grieg's orchestral works with the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln and the conductor Eivind Aadland combines the most popular work by the Norwegian national composer with his least known: the Piano Concerto in A minor, performed here by Herbert Schuch, represented the 25-year-old Grieg's breakthrough to international fame and is one of a handful of great piano concertos on which every pianist is judged. In the concerto, the influence of Schumann, his great model (Grieg had, after all, studied in Leipzig), is combined with that of Norwegian folk music - for the first time in a work by Grieg these national elements can be detected, which enthused not only his compatriots but also his wider European audience.
In his Symphony in C minor, completed in 1864, however, hardly any Norwegian inflections can be traced: apart from Schumann, Grieg emulated the Danish symphonic composer Niels Wilhelm Gade, who had pressed his young colleague to adopt the genre. Although it was a remarkable proof of the 21-year-old's talent, Grieg was not entirely satisfied with his symphony and forbade any further performance. The work was not revived until 1980, when it was performed under adventurous conditions in the Soviet Union, upon which it was immediately recognised as an important milestone in the Scandinavian orchestral culture of the nineteenth century. Despite overt influences of Schumann, Gade and Mendelssohn, the score convinces, thanks to Grieg's youthful inspiration and superb invention.
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Review by John Miller - October 17, 2014
Aadland's fourth volume in his survey of all Grieg's orchestral works brings a pairing of one of the most known and best loved pieces of Classical music, the Piano Concerto in A minor, paired with his Symphony in C minor, a work damned by the composer himself and still lurking in the shadows of neglect and misunderstanding.
Both of these works are early ones, written during the time of Grieg's training, away from his native land and studying in Denmark and at the heart of German Romanticism. The Symphony in C minor was composed in 1863-4 while a first version of the Piano Concerto in A minor was completed in 1868, but it went through seven principal versions until the final one in 1907, submitted to his publisher only 6 weeks before Grieg died. Both works were clearly influenced by Mendelssohn and Schumann as well as eminent Danish composers and teachers such as Niels Wilhelm Gade and Johann Peter Emilius Hartmann, but it is the Piano Concerto which clearly shows its Norwegian origins and foresees Grieg's mature style.
The Symphony 's first movement was finished in two weeks, and the rest within a year, on 2 May 1864. Several performances took place; Copenhagen in 1864 and 1865, Christiania (now Oslo ) in 1867 and Bergen in 1865 and 1867. Grieg published the two middle movements as Two Symphonic Pieces (Op. 14), for piano duet), showing that he cannot have been entirely dissatisfied with the Symphony, but he certainly was not happy about its full four movement orchestral form. In 1867, Grieg heard and was astonished by a Symphony No. 1 in D by his countryman Johan Svendsen. According to his biographers Benestadt and Schjelderup-Ebbe, Grieg admitted that his own symphony "belongs all too obviously to the Schumann period of my life". Consquentially, the composer famously wrote on the cover of the manuscript score: 'må aldrig opføres. E.G.' – 'must never be performed.'
The Bergen Public Library acquired the annotated MS folder after Grieg's death and forbade any performances "according to the composer's wishes", although the score could be studied in the Library. It was therefore Grieg himself who began the public's tradition of reservations about the Symphony with his negative declaration, and this was amplified by adverse comments about it from musicologists who had examined the score (but never heard it!), deepening its alleged unsatisfactory status for many decades.
A lively debate surrounded the Symphony 's rebirth in 1980. The Bergen Festival wanted to perform it, in connection with the opening of the new concert hall ('Grieghallen'), but the Bergen Public Library still would not release the manuscript score. In 1981 the subject reared its head again, this time with a soupçon of cold war politics and international espionage. Russian conductor Vitaly Katayev had acquired a photocopy of the score from a Norwegian scholar. He performed and recorded the Symphony in the Soviet Union in December 1980. Katayev declared that Grieg had the potential to be a great symphonist, and that it was a pity he had written just this one. It then became a 'national issue' to bring about a performance and recording in Norway as soon as possible, and on 30 May 1981 the Symphony was played in Bergen, with a live Eurovision TV relay. Since then, live performances of Grieg's awkward offspring have been few and far between, but there has been a slow accumulation of recordings, most from complete editions of Grieg's orchestral works.
At the age of 20, Grieg entered a time of creative ferment as a daring young composer. He flung himself into writing his first symphony in a burst of youthful enthusiasm at a Danish retreat, the first movement being finished in two weeks. Aadland and his dedicated WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln take this as their motif for a convincing and dynamic performance, full of heroic spirit tempered with elegance and musicality, and a strong feel for its harmonic shifts and nuances of texture and colour. One very notable texture is Grieg's frequent use of tremolo on the strings, audible in every movement. Its effect is to add dramatic intensity induced by the uneasy vibrancy of string accompaniments, and the WDR orchestra's string players effectively project their tremolo parts with unusually clear articulation.
Aadland realises that the structure of the symphony, following that of Beethoven's Fifth, is based on a "from dark-to-Light " scheme. He promotes this continuity by adopting strongly flowing tempi. His paces are somewhat faster than in virtually all movements of other performances (e.g. Ruud (Grieg: Piano Concerto, Symphony, In Autumn - Ogawa / Ruud, Kitajenko (RBCD) and Engeset (RBCD). Aadland's other structural perspective is to carry out all Grieg's repeated sections and thus maintain the composer's balance.
The symphony's journey, under Aadland's guidance, starts from the impulsive heroic fanfares of the opening of movement 1, through the atmospheric serene richness of the Adagio espressivo with its magically misty, floating iridescent atmospheric and chromatic progressions. Hurried on in the stamping mazurka-like rhythms of the 'Intermezzo' (actually a scherzo), the C major Finale is finally reached, jubilant with virtuosically fast tempi which crackle with joie de vivre. A thrilling fusillade of tympani strokes from an inspired WDR orchestra player in the last few bars sums up the orchestra's magnificent response to the work’s (and Aadland's) challenges.
Young Romanian pianist Herbert Schuch (b.1979) seems to avidly collect first prizes from International Piano Competitions and has had a rapid rise to stardom. He is much in demand in Europe, playing concerts with the top orchestras. Listening straight through his Grieg's Piano Concerto, I admired his rapport with Aadland and the orchestra. His piano tone is fluent and commanding in the first and last movements, but pure and bell-like in the Adagio, where he softly floats out his first solo lines. He is certainly eloquent and expressive, but I did find the use of a rubato which slows down several notes before the end of a phrase to be rather predictable and almost a habit.
Comparing Schuch with Janne Mertanen's remarkable reading of the Concerto, which is now at the top of my Grieg Concerto stack (Grieg / Schumann: Piano concertos - Mertanen / Koivula), Mertanen's warmth of tone and manner, wonderfully expressive and subtle phrasing and utterly natural spontaneity is completely captivating and for me wins hands down. Technically, both pianists were equal in their bravura passages.
As in the earlier volumes, Audite have provided an ideal orchestral sound in the Phiharmonie, Cologne, with a fine perspective and very good bass. The piano sound is fully sonorous, with a good dynamic range.
Collectors of this series will no doubt acquire Vol. 4 automatically. The programme of Grieg's spurned first Symphony in such a fine performance, together with an exciting Piano Concerto, might well attract others.
Copyright © 2014 John Miller and HRAudio.net