Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, hosted, and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2011 by Fred Flaxman

Program 181
"Playing Grieg like Grieg"

MUSIC: excerpt from Grieg: Sommerfugl / Butterfly (Lyric Pieces, Vol V, Op. 54, No. 2), performed by pianist Sigurd Slåttebrekk [Simax Classics PSC 1299, CD 1, Track 6] [under the following]

Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman, and I’m going to devote the next hour to a very interesting double CD set on the Norwegian label Simax Classics called “Edvard Grieg: Chasing the Butterfly.” The subtitle says: “Recreating Grieg’s 1903 Recordings and Beyond.”

MUSIC: Fades out

Here’s what this is all about. Edvard Grieg, who was born in 1843, died in 1907, at the very dawn of the recording age. He actually made nine accoustic recordings in Paris in 1903. Tony Harrison, who describes himself as “a bit of a chameleon,” is both a conductor and a recording producer. He came up with the idea of recreating these Grieg performances as a way of trying to understand Grieg’s approach to his own music.

He approached his good friend, the Norwegian pianist Sigurd Slåttebrekk, with the idea, and, to make a long story short, the end result is this very interesting, original pair of compact discs.


The first CD contains all nine of the 1903 Grieg recordings, complete with scratches and clicks. As this makes for a somewhat painful listening experience, I’m only going to ask you to listen to one of these short pieces in order to get an idea of how Grieg played it. Then we’ll hear the same short piece as performed by Sigurd Slåttebrekk. He studied these Grieg recordings in such detail and with such a fine ear for Grieg’s expressiveness and timings that it sounds as though Grieg was resurrected from the dead and made these modern recordings himself.

And just to prove the point, we’ll listen to this short Lyric Piece, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen one last time, this third time going flawlessly back and forth between the Grieg and the Slåttebrekk recordings. You’ll know instantly which is which because of the difference in sound quality and the total elimination of scratches and pops, not because of any difference in performance!

So let’s get started. Here first is Edvard Grieg himself playing his Wedding Day at Troldhaugen from his Lyric Pieces, Volume Eight, Opus 65, Number 6. For the next two minutes, try to force yourself to listen to the piano without letting the scratches and pops distract you from the playing. I know that’s difficult, but it can be done. It’s a good test of your ability to focus!

And stick with me after that and I promise not to subject you to any more scratches for the rest of the hour, with the exception of the third playing of this piece, when we’ll go back and forth between the Grieg and the modern recordings. Remember that the whole purpose of this is to prove to you that for the rest of the hour you will be hearing Grieg played with modern, stereo sound just as he would have played his pieces -- and did play his pieces -- himself.

MUSIC: Grieg: Wedding Day at Troldhaugen from Lyric Pieces, Volume VIII, Opus 65, Number 6, performed by the composer in 1903 [Simax Classics PSC 1299, CD 1, Track 15] [02:00]

Edvard Grieg playing his Lyric Piece, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, in a 1903 accoustic recording made in Paris, France. Now the same piece played in exactly the same way in a 2007 recording by Sigurd Slåttebrekk.

MUSIC: Grieg: Wedding Day at Troldhaugen from Lyric Pieces, Volume VIII, Opus 65, Number 6, performed by pianist Sigurd Slåttebrekk [Simax Classics PSC 1299, CD 1, Track 1] [02:00]

Sigurd Slåttebrekk playing Edvard Grieg’s Lyric Piece, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, just as Grieg himself played it in a 1903 accoustic recording he made in Paris. Finally, to prove that there is little, if any, difference in these two performances aside from the sound quality, let’s go back and forth between the two recordings. You’ll know you’re listening to Grieg when you hear the scratches and pops, Slåttebrekk, when you do not.

MUSIC: Grieg: Wedding Day at Troldhaugen from Lyric Pieces, Volume VIII, Opus 65, Number 6, performed by the composer mixed with a modern recording by pianist Sigurd Slåttebrekk [Simax Classics PSC 1299, CD 1, Track 24] [02:00]

That strange recording was a mixture of both Edvard Grieg and Sigurd Slåttebrekk playing Grieg’s Lyric Piece, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. Now do you believe me when I say that music scholar/pianist Sigurd Slåttebrekk has learned to channel the performance style of composer Edvard Grieg? Well, if not “channel,” at least a darn good job of immitation!

Good, then let’s spend the rest of this hour listening to Sigurd Slåttebrekk play other Grieg pieces just as Grieg might have played them. To begin, here are the first three of the four movements of Grieg’s Piano Sonata in E Minor, Op. 7. Grieg recorded only the third and fourth movements.

MUSIC: Grieg: Piano Sonata in E Minor, Op. 7, performed by pianist Sigurd Slåttebrekk [Simax Classics PSC 1299, CD 1, Tracks 10-12] [10:52]

Pianist/scholar Sigurd Slåttebrekk played the first three of the four movements of Grieg’s Piano Sonata in E Minor, Op. 7 very much as Grieg might have performed this piece himself had he been alive today. If you want to hear Sigurd Slåttebrekk play all four movements of this superb composition, and enjoy it over and over again, I recommend you purchase the recording. It’s on the Simax Classics label. That’s S-i-m-a-x. That recording also contains several other beautiful Grieg piano pieces that we can’t possibly fit in this hour.

Grieg recorded five of his Lyric Pieces that Sigurd Slåttebrekk listened to and studied in great detail before making his Grieg-like recordings of these same pieces. We heard one of these at the beginning of this hour. Now let’s hear another three.

MUSIC: Grieg: Til Våren /To Spring (Lyric Pieces, Vol. III, Op. 43, No. 6), performed by pianist Sigurd Slåttebrekk [Simax Classics PSC 1299, CD 1, Track 4] [1:54]

MUSIC: Grieg: Sommerfugl / Butterfly (Lyric Pieces, Vol. V, Op. 54, No. 1), performed by pianist Sigurd Slåttebrekk [Simax Classics PSC 1299, CD 1, Track 6] [1:55]

MUSIC: Grieg: Etterklang / Remembrances (Lyric Pieces, Vol. X, Op. 71, No. 7), performed by pianist Sigurd Slåttebrekk [Simax Classics PSC 1299, CD 1, Track 9] [1:41]

Four Lyric Pieces by Edvard Grieg performed in the manner of Grieg’s own playing by Norwegian pianist/musicologist Sigurd Slåttebrekk. First was To Spring; then Butterfly; and finally Remembrances.

You are listening to “Playing Grieg Like Grieg” on this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in total timing of the program.]

I mentioned earlier that the music you are hearing in this hour is all from a two-CD set on the Simax Classics label called “Edvard Grieg: Chasing the Butterfly.” The subtitle is “Recreating Grieg’s 1903 Recordings and Beyond.”

Well, so far everything you have heard has been from the first of these two CDs. That compact disc contains all nine acoustic recordings of Grieg’s piano pieces that he himself made in Paris in 1903 as well as the same pieces performed in the same manner by Sigurd Slåttebrekk much more recently. In addition that first CD also includes the complete Grieg Piano Sonata in E Minor and his Ballade in G Minor, both played by Sigurd Slåttebrekk. And those pieces were all recorded on Grieg’s 1892 Steinway piano at Grieg’s home at Troldhaugen.

We’ll use the second half of this hour to play all of the second CD in this set. It is devoted to Grieg’s most famous piece: his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.

Knowing everything Sigurd Slåttebrekk knows about Grieg’s own interpretations of his own music, Slåttebrekk plays this concerto the way Grieg might have played it, although Grieg never recorded it as it was far too long for the earliest recording technologies that were available at the end of his life. Slåttebrekk is joined by the Oslo Pilharmonic Orchestra conducted by Michail Jurowski in this 2005 recording.

MUSIC: Grieg: Piano Concerto, Op. 16, performed by pianist Sigurd Slåttebrekk with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Michail Jurowski [Simax Classics PSC 1299, CD 2, Tracks 1 - 3] [29:05]

Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto as performed by Sigurd Slåttebrekk as Grieg himself might have performed it. The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Michail Jurowski.

And that concludes this hour devoted to the double Simax Classic CD set, “Edvard Grieg: Chasing the Butterfly.” This is Fred Flaxman thanking you for listening.

ANNOUNCER (Steve Jencks): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by Story Book Publishers and their latest offering, a tongue-in-cheek memoir by Compact Discoveries host Fred Flaxman called “Sixty Slices of Life ... on Wry: The Private Life of a Public Broadcaster.” And by the financial support of Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, and an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida.

Total Program Timing: 59:00