Thursday 9 September 2021

A Companionship of Concertos: Tedd Joselson returns to the studio for concertos by Grieg and Rachmaninov

Grieg Piano Concerto, Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2; Tedd Joselson, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Arthur Fagen; Signum Classics

Grieg Piano Concerto, Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2; Tedd Joselson, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Arthur Fagen; Signum Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 7 September 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A rare return to the studio for the distinguished Belgian-American pianist with a pair of classic concertos

This new disc of Grieg's Piano Concerto and Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 from pianist Tedd Joselson, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra and conductor Arthur Fagen on Signum Classics comes as something of a companion to the Lim Fantasy of Companionship for piano & orchestra which Joselson released earlier this year.

Belgian-American pianist Tedd Joselson auditioned for Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra when he was only 17. The result would be a critically acclaimed sequence of six albums on RCA [reissued in 2019 by Sony Classical]. But he retired from public performance in 1999 and mostly resides in Singapore, so this disc represents a rare return to the studios in two of his favourite piano concertos made as part of a project to record both the Grieg and the Rachmaninov alongside the new work, the Lim Fantasy of Companionship all with Arthur Fagen conducting but each with a different orchestra.

We begin with Grieg's Piano Concerto, written in 1868/1869 and premiered in 1869, a rare excursion into large-scale symphonic writing for a composer who often wrote on a somewhat smaller scale. Grieg seems to have been a composer who could, on occasion, write for large scale symphonic orchestra (witness his incidental music) yet rarely felt impelled to. Schumann's Piano Concerto, which Grieg seems to have heard when he was student in Leipzig with Clara Schumann in the solo part, remains a key inspiration alongside Norwegian folk-music. The result is, perhaps, a concerto which (like the Schumann) has been expanded in modern performance from its classical roots into a large scale Romantic piece.

Joselsen takes this large-scale view of the work, and he, Fagen and the RPO produce a performance of notable grandeur. For my taste, their approach to the first movement is a little too stately with steady speeds, lacking a sense of impulsive rubato, though plenty of the orchestral detail is finely engaging. Joselsen is certainly poetic, often giving the sense that there is all the time in the world. The slow movement is beautifully shaped, with Joselson's piano hovering over the rich sound of hushed strings, very much bringing out the Chopin-esque feel to the movement. We begin the finale in nicely perky fashion, as Joselson gives the rhythmic elements of Grieg's music their full importance, but this is a performance which allows itself time to stop and admire the scenery, rather than pursuing the end point.

Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2, written in 1900/1901, was something of a come-back work following his clinical depression arising from the conspicuous lack of success of his First Symphony. Like Grieg's concerto, it has developed into one of the great warhorses of the repertoire whilst its large-scale drama has perhaps coloured our view of smaller scale concertos like Grieg's. But it is poetry which is the the fore in the opening movement, Joselson does not make the opening quite as barnstorming as some, whilst later on in the movement he uses plenty of rubato to make poetic points. The slow movement opens in an intimate manner, hushed orchestra, the piano drawing us in with beautiful soloistic fragments from the wind. And whilst there is intensity and passion later on in the movement, it is this quiet intimacy which is the key. And Joselson brings this sense of character and poetry to bear in the rather episodic finale, allowing himself time but giving key moments a rhythmic impetus.

There are plenty of versions of both these concertos in the catalogue, but Joselson's return to the studio after such a long gap is bound to make this disc something special. These are performances which do not try to rethink these classics, but allow Joselson to bring his combination of poetry and character to bear on the music, finely supported by Fagen and the two orchestras.

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) - Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) - Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18
Tedd Joselson (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Philharmonia Orchestra
Arthur Fagen (conductor)
Recorded Abbey Road Studios, November 2019

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