Edvard Grieg, Lyric Pieces

“Every note that he draws from his piano speaks of a desire for technical and stylistic perfection that is found only amongst the masters.” DIAPASON

In 1973, at the Bath Festival, Crossley gave the world premiere of Tippett’s Piano Sonata No. 3, which was commissioned by him, and overnight achieved international recognition as one of the major pianists of our time. For more than 40 years his brilliant technical and artistic command has been heard in music from all periods, but particularly in the French repertoire, and in the remarkable range of new music from many countries which he has championed. Composers who have written music especially for him include: Tippett (Piano Sonatas No. 3 and No. 4), Henze, Berio, Takemitsu, Gorecki, Adams, Lindberg (Piano Concerto No. 1 and Etude II), Salonen, Knussen and Benjamin.

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Grieg was an absolute master of the miniature and his Lyric Pieces for piano are a treasure house of gems. He seems to have modelled them on the pieces Schumann wove into his piano cycles but without Schumann’s feverish intensity, obsessive rhythms or his sometimes agonized moods. They are basically simple pieces, but beautifully fashioned. He also accepted influences from his native Norwegian folk music and later from other composers of the time. However, he could also be prescient and some of the pieces anticipate much later works. There are ten books in all, and here we have selections from all ten.

The pieces may be simple but I must qualify this: they are simple in the way that Mozart can be simple. That is, they do not call for the extremes of virtuosity which involve playing fast or loud or using a great deal of finger dexterity. Yet in shaping melodies, providing harmonic support which subtly adjusts to the melodic line and to changing harmonies, in creating moods and characterization, they call for a great deal of skill and subtlety in the pianist.

Paul Crossley is well placed to offer this. I suppose his main claim to fame is his association with Tippett, who wrote his last two piano sonatas for him; Crossley’s recording of all four is still a mainstay of the catalogue (CRD 34301). Otherwise he is best known for his recordings of French music and I should also add his superb set of late Scriabin excluding the sonatas (CRD 3524). The skills required to succeed with French music are very relevant to Grieg’s requirements: subtlety, a delicate touch, careful balancing and understanding of harmonic shifts, unobtrusive handling of the sustaining pedal and the ability to characterize quickly and sharply a succession of miniatures. He has all these, and also a lovely glowing tone, to which the engineers have done justice.

As I mentioned, Crossley writes his own sleevenote and very helpful it is too, though in English only. The contents are listed with the titles in German (not Norwegian) and English. CRD give Crossley an excellent recording which does justice to his warm tone so anyone who wants a recent selection of these lovely pieces should be well pleased with this. Stephen Barber, MusicWeb

The composition of Grieg’s “Lyric Pieces” spanned more than three decade, with the first selection of these beautifully economical works being published in 1867 and the last volume finally seeing the light of day in 1901. Paul Crossley’s splendid CRD recital focuses attention on two dozen of these enchanting pieces for solo piano, including “Butterfly,” “To Spring” and Grieg’s most famous keyboard creation “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen,” which was apparently inspired by the celebrations marking the great Norwegian composer’s own silver wedding in 1892. Kevin Bryan Leicester Mercury, Luton News, Surrey Mirror

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