Solo Piano Works by Edvard Grieg
Arthur Rubinstein

Media Review / Listening Diary 2014-07-26


2014-07-26 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2014-11-12 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-07-22 — Brushed up for better readability


Outline


Introduction

This posting is about solo compositions by Edvard Grieg (1843 – 1907). That’s a rather small part of Arthur Rubinstein’s recorded solo repertoire, as included in the recently released “Arthur Rubinstein — The Complete Album Collection“.  None of the compositions played by Arthur Rubinstein were represented in my collection so far, hence this post is about Rubinstein’s interpretations alone:

Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), cover, CD # 51

Arthur Rubinstein — The Complete Album Collection
CD #51: Grieg: Ballade op.24, Lyric Pieces

Arthur Rubinstein

SONY Classical 88691936912 (142 CDs / 2 DVDs, mono / stereo); ℗ / © 2011
Documentation 162 pp., LP liner notes on back of CD sleeve

Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), UPC-A barcode
Rubinstein, The Complete Album Collection (142 CDs), Top cover
amazon media link
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Piano Music by Edvard Grieg (1843 – 1907)

While Rubinstein recorded Edvard Grieg’s piano concerto in A minor, op.16 four times (1942, 1949, 1956, and 1961. This will be covered in a separate post), there is one single LP with music for piano solo by this composer, which Rubinstein recorded in 1953. This LP (now CD #51 in the “Complete Album Collection”) includes around 40 minutes of piano music by this Norwegian composer. Grieg has composed a single piano sonata (op.7, 1865/67), but the bulk of his oeuvre for the piano solo consists of his many Lyric Pieces: short character pieces of typically 1 – 3 minutes duration.

“Ballad in the Form of Variations on a Norwegian Melody”, op.24

For his recording, Arthur Rubinstein selected the “Ballad in the Form of Variations on a Norwegian Melody”, op.24, a theme with 14 variations (total duration about 16’40”):

  • Theme: Andante espressivo (theme, 1’15”)
  • Var.I: Poco andante ma molto tranquillo (1’03”)
  • Var.II: Allegro agitato (0’58”)
  • Var.III: Adagio (1’13”)
  • Var.IV: Allegro capriccioso (0’45”)
  • Var.V: Più lento (1’33”)
  • Var.VI: Allegro scherzando (0’34”)
  • Var.VII: Allegro scherzando (0’43”)
  • Var.VIII: Lento (2’00”)
  • Var.IX: Un poco andante (2’02”)
  • Var.X: Un poco allegro e alla burla (1’09”)
  • Var.XI: Più animato (0’43”)
  • Var.XII: Meno allegro e maestoso (1’07”)
  • Var.XIII: Allegro furioso (0’29”)
  • Var.XIV: Prestissimo — Theme: Andante espressivo (1’15”)

How do they Sound?

At least to my ears, the theme sounds / feels highly melancholic (Nordic winter depression??). So, it’s not something I can easily relate to. The melancholic mood is also present in some of the variations (especially slow ones), and several others are at least moody. But there are also lively sections, some are rather virtuosic, and the spectrum includes contemplative, calm pieces as well. The theme is easily recognized in most variations, through its particular harmonics (even when it’s transposed to a major key), sometimes also through melody fragments.

Most variations are very short. The last two are less than half a minute. From variations VIII (Lento) there is a constant increase in drama and excitement: Un poco andante — Un poco allegro e alla burla — Più animato — Meno allegro e maestoso — Allegro furioso, up to the last variation (Prestissimo), and then the music seems to come to an almost abrupt stop, and a few notes lead back to the initial theme (without repeats).

Overall, quite an interesting, even entertaining piece, despite the melancholic nature of the base theme. Well-played by Arthur Rubinstein, I think.

Four Album Leaves, op.28: No.4, Andantino serioso

Besides the op.24, Rubinstein recorded the No.4, Andantino serioso in C♯ minor (2’54”), from the Four Album Leaves, op.28.

Lyric Pieces

The remaining 11 tracks are devoted to a selection from the 10 books of Lyric Pieces that Grieg composed between 1866 and 1901:

  • From Book 1, op.12 (8 Lyric Pieces, 1866/67):
    • 4. Alfedans — Elves’ Dance / Fairy Dance (0’44”)
    • 5. Folkevise — Folk Song (1’20”)
  • From Book II, op.38 (8 Lyric Pieces, 1883):
    • 1. Berceuse (2’43”)
    • 2. Folkevise — Folk Song (1’43”)
    • 5. Springdans — Leaping Dance (1’16”)
  • From Book III, op.43 (6 Lyric Pieces, 1886):
    • 1. Sommerfugl — Butterfly (1’32”)
    • 4. Liten fugl — Little Bird (1’39”)
  • From Book IV, op.47 (7 Lyric Pieces, 1885 – 88):
    • 6. Springdans — Leaping Dance (1’24”)
  • From Book V, op.54 (6 Lyric Pieces, 1891):
    • 1. Gjetergutt — Shepherd’s Boy (3’31”)
    • 3. Trolltog — March of the Dwarfs (2’48”)
  • From Book IX, op.68 (6 Lyric Pieces, 1898):
    • 5. Bådnlåt — At the Cradle / Lullaby (2’10”)

Selection and Arrangement

The two “Leaping Dances” op.38/5 and op.47/6 appear closely related. Maybe op.47/6 has evolved from op.38/5; at least, they are based on the same dance rhythm. The Lyric Pieces fill more than half the CD, and by nature, they are much more heterogeneous than the ballad with its 14 variations (maybe with the exception of the two Leaping Dances, as just mentioned) — but Rubinstein cleverly arranged them, such that they feel like movements of a bigger piece:

  • op.68/5 — op.47/6 — op.38/1
  • op.38/2
  • op.43/1
  • op.38/5
  • op.54/1
  • op.43/4 — op.12/5 — op.12/4
  • op.28/4 (Album leaf)
  • op.54/3

Even though most of these pieces are short, they often have A–B–A form; most of them are closed little movements by themselves. At the same time many are quite amenable to being used within a “bigger dramatic unit”. Unlike what the name “Lyric Piece” might suggest, these include not just lovely, contemplative pieces (fortunately, with the exception of parts of op.54/1, none of them is even nearly as melancholic as the theme for the above Ballad op.24). There are some real fun pieces in here, surely often very popular, most of them easily (I think) recognizable as Grieg’s compositions. Rubinstein must have used several of them as popular encores — most certainly the “March of the Dwarfs”, a very (too?) popular piece, which inevitably was placed at the very end of this recording.

Conclusion

I’m not listening to music by Edvard Grieg very often (particularly not his piano music). However, after listening to this CD several times, I must confess that I quite like that music (once in a while, at least!), and I can definitely recommend Rubinstein’s recording, despite it being mono only, and with a somewhat dull sound!


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