REVIEWS:  divine art   dda 25042 Grieg for Piano Duo

I trust that at this stage in recording history we have to make no excuses or allowances for the fact that more often than not the most interesting releases in classical music come from the smaller labels rather than the multinationals. Divine Art is one of those smaller labels and in the few years of its existence it has produced a wide range of interesting and eminently worthwhile records. In terms of the Grieg centenary discography, I have to commend a disc which, on the face of it, might seem somewhat superfluous but which in essence is an important and valuable one.

This is of music for two pianos by Grieg, played by the very gifted two-piano team of Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow, at the head of which repertoire on this CD stands the world premiere recording of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in the version for two pianos. This wholly authentic edition is admirably detailed in Goldstone’s excellent booklet notes. In the manuscript full score of the Concerto, Grieg himself made a piano reduction of those passages wherein the orchestra plays without the soloist, so that the work could be played through complete on one instrument. This naturally meant that the orchestral part would have to be omitted when the soloist was playing. Goldstone explains that the second piano part taking the place of the orchestra in this recording is partly by Grieg and partly by Karóly Thern, an Austro-Hungarian composer, conductor and pianist. It was Thern who arranged for piano the music played by the orchestra when the soloist is playing, thus making possible a performance of the entire work on two pianos, “endowing it with a special immediacy and clarity”, as Goldstone so rightly says.

The result is a surprisingly successful version of the work which is wholly convincing in that it enables us to appreciate the quality of Grieg’s original invention – not so much in monochrome, as one might imagine – by focusing our attention on the orchestral part in a way which, as it is so very well played here, causes us to wonder anew at the quality of the music itself. I have been immensely taken with this performance, not least in that the pianist who essays the solo part (is it Goldstone or his wife? – I do not know, neither are we told) makes a quite outstanding job of it. I am well aware that many may fight shy of hearing this version, so familiar are they with the orchestral score, but I do urge you at least to hear it, and see if you are not convinced that it is more than worthwhile. Quite apart from anything else, the recording quality is splendidly true and excellently balanced.

Also on this very well-filled disc are the Norwegian Dances, op. 35, originally for piano duet (and later orchestrated by Hans Sitt), and the piano duet version of the first Peer Gynt Suite and ‘Homage March’ from Sigurd Jorsalfar. These are all equally admirably played. Another rarity is Mozart’s Sonata in C major, K. 545, with a second piano part added by Grieg in 1877. Many people will recoil from this, but again I urge you to hear it: Mozart’s original piano part is left untouched by Grieg and is played by one pianist; the other pianist plays Grieg’s new second part, which turns the music into something quite remarkably different and not at all uninteresting.

This therefore is a fascinating disc; the musicianship of these two players being particularly and consistently impressive.
Robert Matthew-Walker

All concertos are published with the orchestral part arranged for piano, and that is the way they are typically learned. No less a pair of immortal pianists than Rachmaninoff and Horowitz had a legendary two-piano work through of Rachmaninoff's Concerto 3 in the basement of Steinway Hall in New York City. For those of us who went to music school, most of the concertos we heard in performance had the orchestra parts played by a piano. That is where I last heard the Grieg Concerto performed on two pianos. The composer is expected to supply this arrangement before publication. Grieg only did the orchestral arrangement for the parts where the piano solo is not playing. That allowed for a piano score that had the rests filled in with an orchestral reduction. Carl Thern took Grieg's partial arrangement of the orchestra and completed it.

Here we have a knockout performance that took me by surprise. This should be required listening for anyone learning this concerto, especially if a live performance with a second piano is considered. It is also a way to hear the work with different textures. But most of us will miss the variety of sound an orchestra offers, especially when the piano and orchestra imitate each other.

The remainder of the program is devoted to piano duets (four hands at one piano) plus one of Grieg's Mozart sonata arrangements (the famous No. 15 in C, K. 545). Almost the whole program is a flashback to my youth: the Mozart sonata, simplified arrangements of the concerto, playing the Peer Gynt duets with my mother. I can't recall enjoying a release in this way before. Given the high quality of Goldstone and Clemmow's interpretations and their near-perfect ensemble. I wish my own aural memories were this good.

The Homage March is Grieg's own four-hand version of an orchestral piece for the play ‘Sigurd the Crusader' (Jorsalfar) and is given its world premiere recording here (along with the two-piano version of the concerto). The four Norwegian dances for piano duet are not heard often enough, especially at this performance level. This is rather special and should warm the hearts of all Grieg aficionados.

The unmistakably individual stamp of Grieg’s Piano Concerto often leads listeners to assume it is a work of his maturity. In fact he had composed very little up to this point to suggest he was even capable of such an undertaking. It took a major catalyst to really fire up his creative energies- the birth of a beautiful baby daughter. I mention this because the premiere recording of the two-piano version of the Concerto is played with such compelling freshness by husband-and-wife duo, Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow.

There’s no denying that music which relies so heavily on instrumental colour loses something in such a transcription, yet played like this, with Goldstone pulling out all the stops and Clemmow integrating and balancing the accompaniment to perfection, any potential limitations are swiftly forgotten. The rest of this outstanding recital features enchanting piano-duet versions of the First Peer Gynt Suite, Homage March from Sigurd Jorsalfar, 4 Norwegian Dances (the first of which almost lifts the roof off) and Mozart’s Sonata K545 with Grieg’s second piano part.
Julian Haylock

Divine Art has released another winner, this time for fans of piano literature and of Edvard Grieg. As part of a series of recordings by pianists Caroline Clemmow and Anthony Goldstone, “Grieg for Piano Duo” (catalog number 25042) contains two-piano versions of Grieg’s “Piano Concerto,” “Peer Gynt Suite 1,” “Norwegian Dances 1-4,” “Homage March” from “Sigurd Jorsalfar,” and Mozart’s “Piano Sonata in C” with a second piano part by Grieg.

I have always enjoyed piano versions of pieces more familiar in their fully orchestrated forms, because I feel I can better appreciate the inner structure of the music. With Grieg, however, these pieces stand on their own as utterly delightful minor masterpieces for the keyboard.

The comparison of Grieg’s flair for memorable melodies with that of Mozart is heightened by the inclusion of the latter’s work on this disc. This is a CD I will be replaying many times, as I have with other Divine Art recordings featuring these two marvelous players.
Frank Behrens

The veteran two-piano team of Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow have been torrential in delivering unfamiliar versions of classics from the hinterland of the repertoire. But in their latest disc, they have surpassed themselves. Everyone remotely au fait with the classical repertoire knows the Grieg Piano Concerto, but not in this two-piano version. The result is wonderful. The orchestral colour is missing, of course, but the detail and spirit of the original are faithfully captured, enhanced by lovely versions of the Peer Gynt Suite and Norwegian Dances. Only an oddball version of Mozart's K545 C Major Sonata mars the bloom on an otherwise superlative enterprise.
Michael Tumelty

It’s probably difficult to remember today, given how communication is so easy and information so accessible, that the assimilation of orchestral music (new or otherwise) back in the late 1860s (the time of Grieg’s Piano Concerto, as originally conceived) would have been through studying a score, attending a concert, or performing it for oneself at home courtesy of a transcription for “domestic” use. A pianoforte would have been an essential part of the furniture for any self-respecting family. Whether the average household would have run to two such instruments is another matter; those affluent enough and with a pianist able to tackle a concerto like the Grieg would have needed two pianos to get an idea of the invention and fabric of the work.

This arrangement by Grieg and Károly Thern (1817-86) isn’t a recast of the work for two pianos but one in which the solo part is accompanies by another piano, the orchestral writing “reduced”. It works well enough, and this recorded account is admirably clear-sighted. Presumably Anthony Goldstone is the soloist – the presentation is a little bereft of information (such as naming the producer, engineer, recording day and month). The reproduction, while powerful enough, can bored on the blowzy and presents the “orchestral” piano firmly on the right and slightly distant (and muted), with the soloist more dominant on the left. The music, intact if in black-and-white terms, survives very well, even if the listener’s inner ear tends to supply the “colour” that this very familiar piece is used to.

Grieg’s music for Peer Gynt is no less familiar. Again, one “hears” the orchestra while listening to Grieg’s piano duet version, Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow (husband and wife) present both “Morning” and “Death of Ase” with feeling; “Anitra’s Dance” has a nice sense of buoyancy and interplay between the musicians, and “In The Hall of the Mountain King” sounds gratifyingly spooky until malevolent shenanigans take hold. This is colourful music made skeletal but survives the “do we now need to hear this music like this?” test for two main reasons: that the music is still good and because the artistry of Goldstone and Clemmow brings the music to life.

The pianists return to two pianos for Grieg's additional part for Mozart’s C Major Sonata, the so-called “sonata facile”. (Believe me, it’s not!) Grieg’s intention (in this sonata and in others) was to update Mozart for contemporary ears but without altering what Mozart had written. The “second” piano part is recognizably Griegian and it works remarkably well – well enough to have attracted Richter and Leonskaja to make a whole record of Grieg’s “additions” to Mozart. Goldstone and Clemmow make a strong case of Grieg’s accretions, save a couple of points where Mozart loses out.

Norwegian Dances was actually written for piano duet (Hans Sitt made the now better known orchestration). This sounds like an original and is played with gusto, vividness and sensitivity by this duo. The “homage March” (recorded, like the Concerto, for the first time, as arranged) may miss the orchestra but the music’s spirit and soul are undiminished. An interesting release then – and “interesting” shouldn’t be taken as a euphemism on this occasion – that is well recorded, if slightly variable in sound, and which is probably self-recommending to all interested parties. Goldstone supplies a readable and learned booklet note.
Colin Anderson

A disc of charm and curios, which might satisfy all of the would-be-performer, the scholar or those merely wanting a hits collection on the keyboard. The biggest curio is the Sonata K545, a kind of “Edvard Grieg plays Mozart” (as in “Jacques Loussier plays Bach”) in which the second piano provides a running commentary of jam session, harmonic filler and, in Grieg’s words, “a sound that commends itself to modern ears”. Well, “modern” has, of course, become “Romantic”, but time has been kind and the result, Mozart with bass and drums avant la letter, is compelling, a tribute to the Norwegian composer’s wit and taste.

The four-hand version of the Piano Concerto as a collaboration between Grieg and the Hungarian musician Károly Thern (he provided the “orchestration” underneath the soloist, Grieg the rest). The arrangement sounds well, its naturally increased focus on rhythm stressing the work’s more contemporary elements; Goldstone [and Clemmow! – ed.] delivers it with considered panache. Confidence and space are the hallmarks of the duo’s Peer Gynt suite (one of the three versions Grieg made of this music) and the romance of “The Death of Ǻse” is cunningly inflected. The piano duets of the Norwegian Dances are taken quite swiftly but with an appropriately Beechamesque wistfulness. Recorded with clarity last year in a Lincolnshire church, the performances have a consistently live feel and will give pleasure.
Mike Ashman

Both the composer and the works recorded on this CD certainly need no introduction. So what makes this music sound so different from the accustomed style we have become so familiar with? As we all know, Grieg was extremely fastidious with detail, and although he is regarded as a miniaturist, the major part of his compositions are vivid tone paintings reflecting both the spirit and the natural wonders of his native Norway. Some of his pieces also inhabit his austere and sometimes brooding character. So it is really no surprise that he arranged a number of his most famous works for piano duet with the objective of making them more transparent and immediate.

All the transcriptions on this disc are by Grieg himself, with the exception of the Piano Concerto where some of the music was arranged by Karoly Thern, an Austro-Hungarian musician of considerable repute. In the hands of Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow, the music comes through with a "minty" freshness that stimulates and excites and there is hardly any doubt that with more exposure such as this, these pieces can become part of the staple repertoire.
The scholarly annotations are an integral part of this issue as they shed some vital information on why Grieg embarked on this line of composition. The reasons leading the composer to add a second piano part to Mozart's Sonata K. 545 are, to say the least, intriguing.
Gerald Fenech

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.
Jonathan Woolf 

This marks the third version of the Grieg Piano Concerto now available to the public. The "final product," is widely and effusively available in every record shop. Then comes the "first version," which Grieg performed before he incorporated the suggestions of Franz Liszt. That holds special appeal, and is available on BIS with Love Derwinger as the soloist with the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra. Now we have the world premiere recording of the two-piano version, with the second piano part worked on between Grieg and Austro-Hungarian conductor Karoly Thern, who worked especially on the sections when the orchestra plays along with the soloist. The Piano I part is not merely the solo piano part of the final version of the concerto.

Despite pianos have more difficulty sustaining notes in comparison with orchestras, the tempi here remain fairly consistent with the standard playing times of the concerto. I tend not to be a fan of piano reductions of symphonic music, with their reliance especially on rolling octaves, but this version of the concerto certainly has appeal. In the first movement the line between what one would hold as the orchestral line and the solo part get blurred in a way that perhaps could have been better articulated, but this is a small complaint. The two-piano version holds a more intimate sound and aesthetic while still straining to maintain its loyalty to the finished article.

One wonders what the result would have been if Grieg would have gone for something along the lines of what Hummel did with his chamber reductions of Mozart’s piano concertos. Those show a very interesting side to the works and can be heard in very enjoyable performances by Fumiko Shiraga on BIS. The opening measures of the Concerto’s slow central movement are quite beautiful here, though the orchestral version holds more dramatic punch. I agree with an earlier reviewer that the final movement shines a light on aspects of the orchestral part that one tends to overlook, given the grand gestures allotted to the soloist in the regular version of this concerto. Goldstone and Clemmow forge a convincing performance of the two piano version that fans of this great concerto would benefit from hearing.

Another revelation, at least for this reviewer, is the inclusion of the two-piano version of the Mozart Sonata in C, K 545. The fact that Grieg thought he might just add a piano part to such a piece gives one new insight into Grieg’s character and nerve. No doubt displeasing the purists out there, Grieg was unfazed by their reaction to his effrontery in jostling a mainstay of the piano repertoire. The additions don’t amount to anything approximating a hijacking of the Mozart piece à la Schnittke, but is an "augmentation" of sonorities already found in the original. Many might find the additional part an unnecessary distortion to better fit a Romantic perspective. To my ears it is a charming gilding of the lily that serves as an agreeable companion to the Concerto.

The other world premiere recording, that of the Homage March from the incidental music to the forgotten play Sigurd Jorsalfar, is engaging, though of far less import compared to the Concerto. The march, as with another march from the same incidental music to that play is stirring in its own way, though again no innovation to the genre.

The first suite of pieces from Peer Gynt are also included and all cast light on Grieg’s creative process for those familiar with these pieces. The most successful of them in this format are Anitra’s Dance and, unsurprisingly, In the Hall of the Mountain King.Aase’s Death also holds a certain beauty that translates well to the duo piano arrangement though this reviewer still prefers the orchestral version.

This is quite an interesting and well-performed programme. There are quite a few fans of these pieces that will discover new facets to this music from the performances found here. The recording quality is solid and clear, with some sense of ambient space without going to the extent of muddying the sound. Catch this one while it’s available.
David Blomenberg