A Follow-Up on Grieg’s Piano Concerto – Andsnes Still Wins

Disques en lice

I’ve mentioned several times that Swiss radio has two great shows, one in German, one in French, that both have the same approach, select 5-6 versions of a classical work, get 2-3 experts and a  moderator in a radio studio, and have the experts compare these versions blindly. The German version is called Diskothek im Zwei, the French version is called Disques en lice.

I follow both regularly. I often don’t agree with the invited experts, but it is a really nice challenge to see if you listen to the same music without knowing who’s playing, you still like it (or maybe like it less if you’re not aware one of your heros is playing).

A similar concept exists with wine (my other passion), and unlike my wife who has a much better nose, I’m only average at blind tastings. Luckily, I usually do better with music.

Grieg’s piano concerto

I’ve already written about Grieg’s piano concerto previously in this post about Javier Perianes recent recording. There I mentioned that my all time favorite is the version with Leif-Ove Andsnes.

Grieg Schumann Piano Concertos Leif Ove Andsnes Maris Jansons Berliner Philharmoniker

I’m a big Andsnes fan boy, as also documented in my recent commentary about his Beethoven concertos here. So I was really hoping that Disques en lice would include his version, as I wanted to ensure that I still like the version when actually I don’t know it’s him. Luckily for me they did (link to the show here).

Let me brag a little here (sorry!), but I recognized his version blindly in all three movements, and am still as enthusiastic about it as before! I really don’t know how one could do this concerto any better than Andsnes and Jansons.

The competition included:

  • The very recent Vadym Kholodenko recording on Harmonia Mundi with the Norjan Radion Orkesteri. Well, overall I kind of liked the version but must agree with the experts that the orchestra just isn’t the same level than the others, so this got kicked out after the first round (3 stars)
  • Nikolai Lugansky with Kent Nagano and the DSO Berlin: well, ok, but nothing special. Also got voted out rather rapidly, fine by me (3 stars)

The three versions that made it to the final round (3rd movement) are Andsnes, and these two:

  • Nelson Freire, Rudolf Kempe, with the Munich Philharmonic. Interesting version, the still very young Freire has tons of energy here. Unfortunately I liked the orchestral playing quite a bit less (4 stars overall). Nevertheless, this version convinced one  of the three commenting experts

Grieg Schumann Piano Concertos Radu Lupu André Previn, London Symphony Orchestra Decca

  • Radu Lupu, André Previn, London Symphony. This version won for the two other experts. Well, I get what they like, Lupu is obviously doing an outstanding job, and the way they play the 2nd movement is out of this world! Unfortunately, overall this version is just a tad too slow for me, losing too much energy in the process especially in the first movement (still 4 stars though).

Therefore, Andsnes remains my hero for Grieg, and I reconfirm my 5 stars for this album!

The Perianes version from my last post was played at the beginning of the show unfortunately “hors concours”, I still like this recording a lot

And the Moog recording I commented about last time I’ve seen reviewed twice now. Gramophone really loved it, Classica in the latest issue only give it 3 star, in line with my rating.

My Favorite Bruckner – Günter Wand’s Late Recordings With The Berlin Philharmonic

Anton Bruckner

Pretty much at the same time, around the end of high school, my two favorite composers were Brahms and Bruckner. As you can see, one survived and made it to the subtitle of my blog.

The other one, good old Anton, I listen too much less regularly these days. I still love mainly symphonies no. 4 and 7, but overall the broad romanticism and huge mountains of symphony blocks appeal less to me than they did at back then. Probably for similar reasons, I really still don’t appreciate Wagner that much, with some rare exceptions.

In parallel my taste moved backwards in time from the late romantic area to really appreciating Mozart and Bach. When I was really young I thought of Mozart as “too light”, and Bach as “could be composed by a computer, like painting by numbers”, Ah, the stupid arrogance of teenagers.

Anyhow, back to Bruckner. I still like him, even if I listen to his works only occasionally.

But if I do, it is usually with this box:

Anton Bruckner: Symphonies – Günter Wand – Berliner Philharmoniker

Günter Wand Anton Bruckner Symphonies Berliner Philharmoniker RCA Red Seal

Günter Wand is one of those amazingly underrated conductors, and usually only well known by die-hard Bruckner fans. There is something special about Wand and Bruckner. To be fair, Wand has recorded the symphonies at least 3 times, from a very good cycle in Cologne in the seventies, to several recordings with the NDR Symphony Orchestra in Hamburg he lead for many years, to this one, where he got to lead the BPO for a selection of the symphonies.

I grew up on Wand’ reading with the NDR. I even had the pleasure of hearing him live twice, with Bruckner 4 and 8. So obviously I’m biased, and you should certainly also check out other Bruckner specialists like Eugen Jochum or good old Karajan (yes, you Karajan haters out there, his Bruckner is great. Mind you, I used to be a Karajan hater as well….).

I only got introduced to this set 3-4 years ago from a good friend of mine from high school, who attended some of the Wand concert with me. A I had kind of moved on from Bruckner, I simply stuck to my old CDs whenever I wanted to go back and hadn’t really looked in to new recordings for nearly 20 years.

So what do I like about this? Well, it’ best of two worlds, you get Günter Wand who knows Bruckner inside out, and really has a lot of insights to offer, and you get a world-class orchestra like the Berlin Philharmonic. The sound of the BPO is just perfect for Bruckner. As much as I like the NDR, they are obviously in a different league.

Wand approaches the symphonies in a very clean way: there is no romantic overload, no sweet sugary drama, just illustrating the actually rather introvert struggle of an underrated, very catholic Austrian organ player with an inferiority complex that Anton Bruckner apparently was for most of his life.

(Bruckner experts, if I painted a wrong portrait taken mainly from reading too many booklets, please correct me!).

My rating: 5 stars (I notice I’m giving too many five stars recently. But I still think this is purely due to selection bias of me wanting to write about music I really like and not some kind of star inflation).

You can get it here (Qobuz).

P.S. David Hurvitz disagrees with me and thinks Wand’s Hamburg recordings are superior to the BPO ones. You may want to check them out too if you find them, e.g. in this really cheap box set. You never know, I may eventually return to my “roots” as well.

 

UPDATE Jan 29, 2016: In the Feb 2016 issue of Classica magazine, the reviewers compared blindly ten selected versions of Bruckner’s 9th. Günter Wand’s BPO version comes out on top! Here’s the comment: “The best possible version for discovering this work. Pure music, marked by the seal of infinity and eternity” (French sometimes have a certain way of getting very poetic with their language).

Petrenko @BerlinPhil follow-on – “it just clicked”

Following on to my article below, I was pointed to this very friendly article from the NY times. According to one of the musicians, it “just clicks” with Petrenko (side note: I wonder if it ever “just clicked” when they chose Karajan).

I guess this is what music actually needs to be like in the 21st century, no mediagenic Titan holding the baton, but somebody who really cares about the music (not trying to imply that Karajan didn’t care about the music by the way).

Now I’m taking bets on his first symphony cycle recording, given that he has barely recorded anything yet makes him a total wild card.

Here is mine, based mainly on exclusions: Russian? Too obvious. Schumann? Rattle just released a good cycle. Brahms: same thing (a bit longer ago). Mozart: more relevant for period ensembles these days. Mendelssohn: nobody wants to hear anything but 3 and 4. And finally Beethoven: No way! too risky.

Anton Bruckner?

Therefore, and also based on his experience conducting Wagner in Bayreuth, my bet is on Bruckner. To my knowledge, Rattle never went beyond the 4th and 9th, and even Abbado didn’t do a full cycle with the BPO.

What do you think?

Habemus Papam – Kirill Petrenko to lead the Berlin Philharmonic. One question remains: who the heck is that?

I’ve previously mentioned the search of a successor for Simon Rattle in Berlin. 

Now we have the answer: Kirill Petrenko. 

I assume I’m not the only one barely familiar with this young conductor. He has recorded only a small handful albums and has never formally headed a symphony orchestra before (only opera, at the Berlin Komische Oper, in Munich and also Bayreuth). 

At least this article from the Guardian sounds reassuring. 

Interesting times ahead as of 2018.