Saturday, 18 May 2013

Grieg's "Violin Concertos"

Since the beginning of time, music composers – and others – have arranged and re-arranged music for different instrumental combinations. Brahms' Hungarian Dances began life as piano duets. Prokofiev's second sonata for piano and violin began life as a flute sonata. Not to mention J.S. Bach, and many others … My 1954 recording of Paganini's first violin concerto with Christian Ferras is with … Pierre Barbizet (piano).

Different media rarely transfer well. The Seventh Seal (high among the ten greatest films ever made) would not make a good book, nor a good theatrical play. [For the benefit of the younger generation, The Seventh Seal is not a nature documentary, but a black-and-white film by Ingmar Bergman]. Shakespeare transfers with difficulty to the cinema. The books of the Lord of the Rings, even to devotees like me who have known them since the later 1950s, did – against all my expectations – transfer reasonably well to film. The exception proves the rule. Can you imagine the film of Les Enfants du Paradis as … a book?

Similary, chamber music, as in duo sonatas for violin and piano, is inherently different from orchestral concertos, as in the violin concertos of a Shostakovich, an Elgar or a Brahms. So it was a little foolhardy of Henning Kraggerud (aided by Bernt Simen Lund) to inflate the aimiable three sonatas for violin and piano by Grieg and to try to transform them into concertos for violin and orchestra (the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra). In my view, it just does not work. Grieg's music remains as tuneful and enjoyable as ever, but this is emphatically not music conceived for a violin with an orchestra. Had Grieg wanted to do that, he would undoubtedly have composed things quite differently.

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