The Canadian label Atma Classique has just released an album available both as a CD and digitally of the pianist Sheng Cai playing music for the piano by Edvard Grieg.

The finely engineered and produced project includes the rarely heard Piano Sonata, Op. 7, a youthful work composed when Grieg was 22 years old, and the still rarely heard Ballade, Op. 24, an interesting composition structured as a theme and variations.

Sheng Cai’s pianistic technique and protean interpretive gifts more than equip him to tackle the large cornerstones of Grieg’s repertoire for the piano, but it is especially in the Scenes of a Country Life, Op. 19 and in the Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46 that he demonstrates the kind of sensitivity and lightness of touch that makes for a perfect interpretation of Morning Mood and The Death of Ase.

In the livelier Anitra’s Dance and in the dramatic In the Hall of the Mountain King, Sheng Cai evidences his flair for the theatrical, reminding us that these pieces were part of the incidental music for the Henrik Ibsen play Peer Gynt.

In the three miniatures Scenes of Country Life the genius of the composer attains the goal of elevating the folk-inspired to inspiring concert music: In the mountains, Bridal Procession, and From the Carnival are as those in the Peer Gynt Suite – little gems imprinted with Grieg’s hallmark qualities: brevity, economy of means, and a flawless balance of Nordic restraint and sentiment.

Throughout the recording Sheng Cai, a welcome and notable artist proves to be the ideal interpreter of this music: elegant, assured, inspired, judicious in his choice of tempi, nuanced in his dynamics, devoid of any of the superficial flashiness that plagues so many soloists today.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS