Grainger: Grieg Piano Concerto (Piano Rolls) + Stokowski - RCA ARL1-3059
Jacket VG- / LP NM
This fascinating gatefold LP from RCA (ARL1-3059, Red Seal label, US pressing, stereo/mono) preserves a remarkable musical re-creation: marrying Percy Grainger’s 1919 Duo-Art piano roll of the solo part from Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 16, with the very ‘live’ accompaniment of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Hopkins – rec. by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation 2/3 May 1978, Sydney Music Studios. Piano roll performances have always retained a foothold in both the LP and CD catalogs, the most famous perhaps remaining Rachmaninov’s Ampico rolls, issued by Decca, and more recently Telarc.
Nonesuch/Warner has released rolls made by George Gershwin, while Nimbus had embarked on an extensive survey before their unfortunate demise. During the LP era, Telefunken, Columbia, and RCA all issued a variety of roll recordings, as did a number of independents. Yet, almost without exception, these all featured the solo literature, making this concerto venture all the more unique, and allowing one to hear Grainger’s reading of this warhorse – a work with which he was particularly associated and of which he enjoyed the composer’s own imprimatur – in true stereo.
There are, of course, several extant ‘live’ performances of Grainger in this piece, the most circulated being that with Stokowski at the Hollywood Bowl (15 July 1945 – issued on Vanguard), but this RCA realization reproduces Grainger’s Grieg in high fidelity, and when the pianist was on much better form. Piano rolls will undoubtedly continue to divide opinion, but they remain irresistible in their possibility to evoke the ‘likeness’ of great pianists, if not their ‘living presence.’
On the B Side of this marvelous disc are a famous series of Grainger selections, recorded by the composer with Leopold Stokowski and His Symphony Orchestra at New York’s Manhattan Center, 31 May and 8 November 1950: Handel in the Strand, Irish Tune from County Derry, Country Gardens, Shepard’s Hey, Mock Morris, Molly on the Shore, and Early One Morning – taped by Richard Mohr and Lewis Layton for RCA Victor.