Elisabeth Leonskaja in Grieg & Schumann

Elisabeth Leonskaja in Grieg & Schumann

Elisabth Leonskaja is one of the finest living pianists. Famously a duet partner of Sviatoslav Richer, her interpretations of the core repertoire are ever-illuminating. As here; and as in this previous post, in which her performances Beethoven's Third and Fourth Piano Concertos sat alongside comparative versions by Artur Pizarro (Odradek) and Huachen Zhang BIS).

Leonskaja is joined by the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra (Luzerner Sinfonieorchester) under Michael Sanderling. It is a match made in Heaven, all supported by Warner Classic's superlative recording. Piano/orchestra exchange is a vital part of these concertos (particularly, perhaps, the Schumann) and Sanderling has his orchestra mould phrases with just as much tenderness as Leonskaja.

There are various live performances by Leonskaja available on YouTube of both these concertos, but this is a studio recording made over three days (March 27-29, 2023). It stands as a vital testament to Leonskaja's art - long may it remain in the catalogue. For many, many years the go-to coupling of these concertos was Radu Lupu/LSO/Previn; this one now complements, and, in the Grieg, even supplants, it.

Schumann's Concerto is given one of the finest performances, up there with the likes (apart from Lupu) of Argerich and Pollini. If it doesn't sweep the boards quite like Leonskaja's Grieg (see below ), this remains an eminently satisfying performance. The care in the first movement given to phrasing is amazing. Here's a film of some of that movement:

.. and here's the fist movement in toto:

For some, the slow movement might indulge in itself a touch too much. The real crown of this performance is the finale, the perfect marriage of detail and excitement:

The Grieg is astonishing. If ever you thought the Grieg and Schuman concertos (both in A-Minor) were hewn from the same cloth, Leonskaja might just make you think again. The first movement's opening is more than robust. This is a landscape of contrasts, the first piano entrance after that gentle, pressing, even consoling, and yet delivered with the ultimate care of detail. Her first movement cadenza is nothing short of magisterial:

The slow movement is a dream. No unnecessary stabbing of accents (as so many pianists do), just an unfolding of whispered intimacies and silvery showers of notes:

But it is the finale that is the most astonishing. No other pianist - Lupu included - finds such fantasy and such depth here. In Leonskaja and Sanderling's hands, this becomes a fully-fledged tone-poem:

A truly remarkable release. Do we need another Grieg/Schumann coupling with no filler)? Leonskaja absolutely persuades is that we do!

This disc is available via Amazon at this link. Spotify below.