thoughtful, emotionally fleet and powerfully recorded
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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Lyric Pieces (details at end of review) [44:29]
Ballade in G minor, Op. 24 [18:16]
Peter Jablonski (piano)
rec. 2013, Inagi Municipal i Plaza, Tokyo
Booklet notes in Japanese & English
CD/SACD stereo only TRITON OVCT-00106 SACD [63:02]
Ten volumes in all, Grieg’s Lyric Pieces are very much his musical sketchbooks and diary of his composing life, and despite their relative simplicity, they hold a fascination for pianists of all calibres. Indeed, many an exponent who would otherwise be branded a pyrotechnician has seemingly sought to express their inner poet through these works. Key recordings of the pieces can range from the complete, such as Einar Steen-Nøkleberg on Naxos and Håken Austbø on Brilliant Classics, to a substantial selection, including Balász Szokolay on Naxos and Mikhail Pletnev on CDK. To date, though, pride of place in the latter category must go to Emil Gilels on DG or, some would argue, Leif Ove Andsnes on EMI/Virgin.
Comparisons for selections of these miniatures become difficult when performers make choices that differ markedly from each other’s. For example, the Gilels survey of 20 pieces includes only nine, or half, of those performed on the review disc by Peter Jablonski. While this provides some common ground for detailed appraisal, equally if not more important is the general ‘feel’ of the programme as a whole, should the listener not want to just dip into the offerings. Indeed, unless one is to exhaustively record the lot, the performer’s particular selection and how they integrate them into their own sonic canvas is perhaps more defining than piecemeal evaluation of each item.
For his recital, Jablonski has added another dimension by finishing with the G minor Ballade, a considerably more substantial and, on paper, technically demanding work. This, I must admit, fired my suspicions, given that Jablonski’s previous live and recorded outings signalled a bias to technical display over musical substance. Certainly those were earlier times, and we should now expect the mature artist, but was he still incapable of sending his audience home without a wheel-spin?
Just a few bars of Arietta settled my uncertainties. This was to be no grand bash, or race to the finish.
Undoubtedly there is an arc of rising intensity as the recital nears its conclusion, but it all makes sense, and Jablonski does it handsomely. The contrast with Gilels is illuminating: DG’s typically bright, direct piano sound imbues the Russian master’s collection with the feeling of a mid-summer’s day; Jablonski’s aura is more autumnal, the truthful but warmer, more distant image of his instrument suggesting a darker, more enveloping ambience. While sunshine permeates both, one can sense the mists rolling in with Jablonski’s. For the pieces shared with Gilels, honours are close to even in timing, Jablonski faster in a few, but importantly without any sense of rushing. On the dynamics, Gilels is at times conspicuously more animated, say in Halling and Scherzo, while Jablonski sounds generally more measured and restrained, inward-looking perhaps. Whether he was reining in his natural instincts, only he would know, but occasionally his pronounced use of the sustain pedal suggests some self-conscious control. Crucially though, his approach is consistent throughout, and satisfyingly faithful, one feels, to Grieg’s vision.
The recording was made in Japan, and Japanese is the primary language on the disc inserts and booklet notes, with English translations only for the essential recording details, and a bio of Peter Jablonski. It is a hybrid SACD/CD disc, although the SACD option is stereo only, meaning no additional channels are provided for surround sound. At the time of publication, this disc is at super-premium price, even in its country of origin. The mp3 and CD-quality download prices, however, appear to be normal. For those seeking a hi-res download, simply finding one appears to be the challenge; sites such as eClassical and Qobuz did not have it listed when I checked.
Sadly, price and availability issues may prove more of a barrier to Peter Jablonski’s Grieg recital than the fierce competition he faces from the likes of Gilels, Andsnes and Pletnev. That would be a pity, as there is much to recommend it.
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