Monday, June 15, 2020

Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway

On Edvard Grieg’s birth-date, in 1843, the Grieghallen re-opened (following Covid-19 shutdown) with a concert of his music played to an invited audience of no more than two-hundred, at least a seat’s gap between each one; the Bergen Philharmonic looked more together although individual musicians had their own music stand and the basses were (I think) down to three.

The soulful if stirring ‘Homage March’ from Sigurd Jorsalfar enjoyed wonderfully heartfelt string-playing, (Edward Gardner moulding the music with his hands, brass and percussion adding to the ceremony, the Philharmonic rejoicing to be back.

Ørjan Matre has made Notturno (this was its premiere) from Grieg’s Lyric Piece of that name and chucked in other Grieg selections for a wacky confection whimsically scored for something fragmented/spectral/impressionistic – call it what you will – ending with the disembodied sound of a piano: if Grieg himself (dead 1907) recorded piano rolls, it may have been him, perhaps tutting at Matre’s use of percussion (I don’t forget Schoenberg orchestrating Brahms, mind). Not wishing to spoil the party, let’s just say that the over-long Notturno outstayed its welcome early on.

Leif Ove Andsnes took part in the new piece. His intrinsic virtuosity and musicianship made the Grieg Piano Concerto new-minted – you know you’re in for something special when the pianist doesn’t hurl the opening flourish at you, the first movement lively and ruminating, Andsnes musing and heroic in the cadenza. The slow movement was deeply-felt (for reasons I can’t explain I was thrown-back thirty-plus years to when Emil Gilels played the Grieg with the LSO and Colin Davis at the Proms), tears in the eyes for me from far-way but so-close Bergen, and the Finale was frisky, then sensitive, then lolloping, then triumphant. The odd pianistic smudge and orchestral uncertainty aside, this was a masterclass in how to make the familiar fresh.

Andsnes offered another Lyric Piece as an encore, tender and affectionate.