Grieg: Piano Concerto - Grainger / Gupta / Bjorå

Grieg: Piano Concerto - Grainger / Gupta / Bjorå

2L  2L-060-SABD (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid


Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 16, Violin Sonata, Lyrical Pieces

Percy Grainger (pianola re-performance)
Kristiansand Symfoniorkester
Rolf Gupta (conductor)

Øyvind Bjorå (violin)

The magic of a "time machine" brings Percy Grainger's original performance back to life in this modern surround-sound recording with the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rolf Gupta. Edvard Grieg himself bears witness to the validity and authenticity of Grainger's interpretation through his own enthusiastic endorsement: "I had to become sixty-four years old to hear Norwegian piano music interpreted so understandingly and brilliantly. He breaks new ground for himself, for me, and for Norway. And then this enchanting, profound, serious, and childlike naturalness! What a joy to gain a young friend with such qualities!"

In 2007, conductor Rolf Gupta gave the first Norwegian performance of Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor with the legendary Australian pianist Percy Grainger (1882-1961) as the posthumous soloist. On this recording, the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra accompanies Grainger's original and controversial interpretation of the concerto. In addition, the violinist Øyvind Bjorå and pianolist Rex Lawson perform Grieg's Violin Sonata in C minor. The recording also includes a handful of Grieg's Lyric Pieces, performed by the composer himself. Astonishingly, these performances have not been available to the public until now.

Two different instruments have facilitated Grainger's and Grieg's encounters with the KSO/Gupta in modern times. Grainger plays on a form of musical time machine, the Duo-Art reproducing piano, which is something like an analogue predecessor of the computer, powered by an electric suction pump, and controlled automatically by perforated rolls of paper. Grieg, on the other hand, has been restored to life by means of a foot-pedalled pianola, played by Rex Lawson. For this recording, both instruments were fitted in front of a Steinway concert grand piano and re-performed the playing of Grainger in 1921 and Grieg in 1906.

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DXD recording
Resolutions (3)
  • 2.0 LPCM 24bit/192kHz
  • 5.1 DTS HD MA 24bit/192kHz
  • 7.1 DTS HD MA 24bit/96kHz
Reviews (1)

Review by John Broggio - October 7, 2009

A massive disappointment.

The piano concerto is "played" by Percy Grainger via a piano roll and is accompanied by the Kristiansand Symfoniorkester and Rolf Gupta. The rendition of Grainger is rather scrappy by the standards of today and the overall sonic image is not helped by the size of orchestra; it is simply far too small when individual string instruments can be heard instead of a solid body of tone. The effect is exacerbated by their surround seating devised by 2L - strings of 7/4/3/5/3 are just too small for late Romantic composers. In no way does it compare favourably to Grieg: Piano Concerto, Symphony, In Autumn - Ogawa / Ruud for the concerto.

Of some historical interest is the inclusion of four miniatures marked up by Grieg himself and "played" thanks to the help of the noted pianolist Rex Lawson. These are less scrupulous to the score than one might expect, which provides authenticists with an interesting dilemma - which is more important the performing style or the score? A further piano roll of Percy Grainger performing Grieg completes the miniatures presented on this disc. More miniatures are available as a download after entering a code supplied in the accompanying booklet.

The final work is the third violin sonata played by Øyvind Bjorå, "accompanied" by Rex Lawson who is interpreting an unmarked piano roll. It must be said that Bjorå and Lawson do not really have a meeting of minds in their interpretation and the unnatural perfection of the piano part just make the whole performance sound stilted.

The sound is very good, as usual from 2L, but as noted in the performance of the concerto this can be a double-edged sword.

Not recommended unless you must have the Grieg miniatures.

Copyright © 2009 John Broggio and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (1)

Comment by Ramesh Nair - December 22, 2015 (1 of 1)

Site review by ramesh June 16, 2010

This is a surprisingly effective disc, which I'm rating highly for the simple reason that I've found it very enjoyable on repeated listening. A piano teacher friend also concurs. However, my high ranking is based on what this disc seeks to achieve, and these goals do not include the best possible presentation of a famous romantic warhorse for a full size symphony orchestra and virtuoso pianist.

The enterprising 2L company has expended immense efforts on the preparation of this release, including a dedicated website, at which full technical details can be found :
You must also peruse for one of the most entertaining articles imaginable on a classical pianist. Here you will read that 'Grainger was a sado-masochist with a particular enthusiasm for flagellation... who donated to the University of Melbourne... 83 whips and a pair of his blood soaked pants,' and that 'he designed a crude forerunner of the modern sports bra for his Danish sweetheart.'
It is most regrettable that 2L in their quest for authenticity chose not to recreate the Grainger-approved pneumatic restraints for the orchestra on this recording.

Percy Grainger's 1919 Duo-Art music roll of the Grieg Piano concerto, which included a piano reduction of the orchestral parts, is one of the most famous specimens of this genre. Grainger had personally known the composer for a couple of years. Though the roll was made well after Grieg's death, the composer had apparently approved of Grainger's interpretations of his music. The Grainger piano roll has previously been recorded on LP and CD. Additionally, a relatively recent London BBC 'Last Night of the Proms' featured the BBC orchestra accompanying the piano roll, prefaced by a mock management announcement, 'Mr Grainger is indisposed today.'

I've never heard a piano roll reproduced with quite this fidelity as on this SACD/bluray release. [ The bluray, as with 2L releases, reproduces the SACD programme. It is stereo and multichannel audio only, without video content.] I have 10 other performances of the Grieg concerto on CD, including the most lauded : Dinu Lipatti's mono recording, the 1971 Stephen Bishop-Kovacevich performance [ The original release named the pianist as 'Bishop', and the later reissues call him 'Kovacevich' ], and the 1965 Michelangeli live concert on BBC Legends.

The most compelling performance of the Grieg which I've heard on SACD is the Bishop-Kovacevich interpretation, but this is currently a deleted Universal Japan SACD. The Grainger piano roll has reduced dynamic range. Ironically, this probably makes for more comfortable domestic replay than other versions, since one doesn't have to adjust the volume. The orchestra has no such dynamic limitations. The string complement is 7 first violins, 4 seconds, 3 violas, 4 cellos and 3 basses. This means that the sound recreated is probably closer to the smaller forces that the composer expected, especially in the early to middle part of his career in nineteenth-century Scandinavia.
Grainger's playing is brisk to the verge of jauntiness, especially in the slow movement, which is emphatically not the 'adagio' as marked. Prior to receiving this 2L release, the swiftest performance of the slow movement I'd heard was the glacially unsentimental Michelangeli. Grainger zips through this a good 30 seconds quicker, astonishing for a six minute movement. Grainger's passagework in all the movements abounds in rhythmic licence. There are numerous short accelerations which often make one wonder whether the piano roll was suffering speed distortions in replay until one hears the same mannerisms repeatedly. A couple of the 'expressive pauses' are so extreme that if these were made by somebody in a modern piano competition, the jury would have every right to mark down the interpretation as whimsical. I should add, however, that for those to whom this music is relatively unfamiliar, or who listen to plenty of jazz or other improvised music, that this Grainger recreation will seem fresh and unstuffy. Accordingly, I do not feel that the caveats I'm inserting about this vintage interpretation are by themselves detrimental. Just don't expect a 21st century music competition rendition : and this is not necessarily a bad thing with the complaints of cookie-cutter anodyne sameness. What you get in this 2L release is definitely something interesting and different.

Interestingly enough, this release includes a selection of Grieg's famous 'Lyric pieces' for solo piano, made by the composer himself on a 1906 roll, one year before his death, and one performance by Grainger. [ The 2L company website has further solo performances available as audio files.] The rhythmic license of Grainger's performance is also evident in Grieg's own versions, albeit to a lesser extent. Should you listen to these tracks without consulting the booklet notes, it would be hard to determine which is being played by the composer, or by Grainger. I have a recording of Sviatoslav Richter performing Op 65/6, and the composer is quicker, looser, freer, and altogether less severe in his rendition.
Grieg's C minor violin sonata is perfomed, with Rex Lawson on the pianola, in an unfussy way, yet still resonates with a vibrant, dramatic sweep.