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Grieg: Piano Concerto; Symphonic Dances; In Autumn Overture.

Grieg: Piano Concerto; Symphonic Dances; In Autumn Overture. Havard Gimse, piano; Bjarte Engeset, Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Naxos 8.557279.

Naxos continues to offer good value for the classical buyer's dollar, as this album of Grieg's music demonstrates. The performances and sound may not rank with the absolute very best, but they're close enough for most folks, I'm sure, and the seventy-one minutes of playing time provide plenty to listen to.

The opening movement of the Piano Concerto in A minor, a staple of the piano concerto repertoire and therefore having many alternative rivals, is famous for its dramatic opening drum roll and cascading crescendos from the piano. Both pianist Havard Gimse and the Naxos engineers nicely capture the theatrical effect of this opening, and, indeed, the whole of the first movement follows closely the excitement set in the beginning. The second movement is beautifully hushed and continues to portray the beauty of nature as Grieg intended. It's in the final movement that the Concerto itself begins to suffer, as it has never seemed to hang together well with the rest of the piece. The final movement is like a miniature concerto unto itself, very folksy in its two outer sections and sweetly quiet in its middle. But it doesn't have a lot to do with anything that went before, and neither Gimse nor conductor Engeset can do much about that. In fact, by playing up the extremes, the performers only make matters worse. Oh, well.

Accompanying the Concerto is the brief tone poem, "In Autumn," and the suite of folk tunes called "Symphonic Dances." They come off well, too, although I doubt that most buyers will be attracted to the disc by anything but the Concerto. The Naxos sound is excellent in piano tone, very vibrant, clean, and alive, and pretty good in the accompaniment, if a little lean in the bass.

Finally, I should mention that as good a bargain as this Naxos release is, one can still buy a two-disc, mid-priced Philips set that includes possibly the best Grieg Concerto interpretation of all, with Stephen Kovacevich and Colin Davis, along with piano concertos from Schumann (Kovacevich), Addinsell (Dichter), Tchaikovsky (Argerich), and Brahms (Kovacevich again), making the set one of the ultimate great bargains in the history of recorded music.
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Author:Puccio, John
Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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