Janne Mertanen / Hannu Koivula / Gävle Symphony Orchestra

Grieg, Schumann: Piano Concertos

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Finnish pianist Janne Mertanen, known mostly for Chopin recordings, here takes on probably the most-often-recorded pairing in the Romantic piano literature, the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54, of Schumann, and the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, of Grieg. Does Mertanen have anything new to say here? Perhaps not totally, but his Grieg, from the very first grand gesture, is in the top rank of recordings of this well-loved work. The first movement is a dramatic tour de force, with the momentum carrying the music through what is often a rather leisurely episodic structure, and the central-movement nocturne is extremely delicately done. Mertanen gets excellent support from the little-known Gävle Symphony Orchestra under Hannu Koivula: the orchestra is rather small, and the blend lets Mertanen emerge from the texture without banging the keys. The whole thing is a demonstration of the very high general level of music-making coming out of Scandinavian countries. The Schumann is not quite as compelling; Mertanen seems to be trying to develop a contrast between these two closely related works rather than linking them, but in the process he loses some of the Janus-faced quality of the Schumann itself. It is still a well-executed Schumann with many nice small details, and a noteworthy entry in a crowded field.

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