Einar Steen-Nokleberg is believably Norway's finest pianist, with his sunlit clarity, technique as clean as northern waters, dynamic expressiveness and epic strength, coupled with equal subtlety. Above all, his directness, simplicity and sweetness of tone accord well with the melodic music of Grieg.
His program contained two of Grieg's finest large works for piano - the Holberg Suite, in the style of the Elizabethan dance suites; and the Ballade, Op. 24, with its dozen variations, perhaps Grieg's finest work for piano.The tuneful and familiar Holberg Suite is both Nordic in spirit and quaint in style, and Steen-Nokleberg took off on the Prelude with the friskiness of midsummer's eve under an elfin moon. A subdued, courtly Sarabande followed, then a country sort of Gavotte with a peasant swing to it, an Air with a poetic descending theme, and finally a Rigaudon, declaimed in a big singing tone.
For the extended Ballade, Grieg worked his magic to create one of those wistful themes that evokes a sense of lonely fjords and mountains, melancholy in its lyricism.
Throughout the great scope in the variations dynamically and emotionally, each seems very Norwegian, a character which the pianist stressed whether sweetly melodic, slow and thoughtful, or even funereal; becoming playful, even to the point of burlesque; sprawling out about as big as Grieg ever gets in a masterful march, or building to a climax furioso and prestissimo before emphatically restating the theme. Steen-Nokleberg's was a performance both thoughtful and entertaining.
Making sure that no one polluted the real, pure Grieg by suggesting his "Song of Norway" connection, the artist chose to close his program with the Peasant Dances of Op. 72, a set of 17 short pieces based on wedding marches, springars, gangars and hallings - dance rhythms little know here, often of a boisterous nature. And though the music was tuneful, even graceful and pictorially evocative at times, the many themes began to run one into another in the listener's ear.
It's a safe bet that the audience, appreciative as it was, would gladly have settled for some of the more famous piano solos from the master of Troldhaugen, or even a few piano transcriptions of some great Grieg melodies. In a program like this you could lose sight of Grieg's universal appeal, which is first as a melodist, then as a Norwegian.
- RICHARD DOWLING, a young American, on Tuesday night showed himself the sort of people's choice pianist who knows how to rouse an audience. Dowling, a clear-voiced artist with an excess of technique, brought his listeners to their feet with a seldom-heard virtuosic test, the Variations Serieuses, Op. 54 by Mendelssohn. Equally taxing technically was Ravel's own piano arrangement of his orchestral score "La Valse," which lost something (or more correctly, gained far too much) in the translation, leading to an excess of thunderation, covering much of the infectious melody.