Monday, December 28, 2009

Nordic piano music played by Nanna Hansen

Grieg: Lyric Pieces (selections); Sibelius: Piano pieces (selections); Nielsen: Humoresque-Bagatelles, Five Piano Pieces
Nanna Hansen, piano
EMI Classics CDC 74 9033 2 | Stereo DDD

Has this CD been reissued at all? Probably not. What a shame then. This is a very attractive program played with great warmth and charm by a pianist that had an all too brief recording career for EMI's Scandinavian branch. Early digital recordings tended to sound too bright, but the engineering on this disc has none of that. Very warm digital sound.

I couldn't find much on Nanna Hansen online. She seems to be a professor of piano at some university in Europe, but this information came from a link that, oddly enough, turned out to be a porn site. No kidding--try typing "Nanna Hansen" into Google and click on the first link. She also was awarded a scholarship from the Leonie Sonning Institute and went on to study with Monique Haas. Why she didn't become better known is hard to say when listening to this recital. She has a soft, supple touch and great legato when needed. Her runs sound lovely; very pearly toned.

Her recording of a handful of Grieg's Lyric Pieces is simply lovely. One of the best I have ever heard and it makes a wonderful companion to Gilels' and Gieseking's more complete traversals. Tempi are slower than either pianist's. Not a bad thing--this is music that is meant to be savored and enjoyed. No need to rush here.

Sibelius' piano music isn't often heard and with good cause. It simply isn't very good. Compared to Grieg's or Nielsen's works for the instrument, Sibelius' sound curiously amateurish and lacking a distinctive voice. Even compared to the salon music of the time it sounds inferior. Fortunately, Ms. Hansen only plays seven of these pieces. They're all very short and, save for the closing Arabesque, all forgettable.

Unidiomatic is the complaint you usually hear against Carl Nielsen's piano music. True, Nielsen was a brass player and violinist whose piano technique was modest at best. He approached the piano with a degree of freedom unfettered by what was considered "pianistic" and wrote some very original and powerful works for the instrument. What we have here, however, are some delightful chips from the master's work bench. Nielsen's Humoresque-Bagatelles were premiered by the composer and were written as pieces for young pianists to play. Don't let this fool you--no dry pedantry here. These works are a delight for the ear. They're also teeming with Nielsen's personality and some like Jumping Jack look forward to the world of the Sinfonia semplice. The third piece, a gently beguiling waltz (A Little Slow Waltz), is a gem that ought to make for a splendid encore for pianists on the hunt for novel repertoire. The spirit of Grieg hovers over the recital closer, the Five Piano Pieces. J.P.E. Hartmann, Gade, and Svendsen also rub shoulders here--this is a more conservative work than the Humoresque-Bagatelles but no less enjoyable. A sly wink and raising of the eybrows can be heard in the Humoreske and Arabeske, pointing the way to the more familar Nielsen we know. The haunting and evocative Mignon is followed by the gruff high spirits of the Elves' Dance, a troll-like piece that was later used again by the composer in his incidental music for the play Sir Olaf, He Rides.

Admirers of Scandinavian music and late romantic piano should look no further. Nanna Hansen was a formidable pianist with a sense of poetry that is a rare find these days. Our loss that she has been forgotten. If I ever see another Hansen disc, you can bet I'll snap it up in a heartbeat.



    1. Thank You, do you have more from Nanna Hansen ?
      Claus Opelt

  2. Thank you so much for this recording. This is unspeakably beautiful.