Grieg / Schumann, Louis Lortie
Blessed with a unique touch at the piano and an infectious sensibility for the Romantics, French-Canadian pianist and conductor Louis Lortie has made a name for himself on the international stage. Until recently a Master in Residence at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel in Waterloo, Belgium, he has conducted and played with many of the major orchestras of the world, including stations in Canada, Europe, England, Australia, and the United States. At Teatro Malibran in Venice, Lortie takes on the double role of conductor and piano soloist and leads La Fenice’s orchestra through two piano concertos by Edvard Grieg and Robert Schumann. Performed back to back and garnered with his unique style, the pieces nearly melt together into a singular musical experience.
Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op 16 from 1868 holds a special place in the composer’s catalogue. To this day, it remains one of the Scandinavian composer’s most popular works. The opening timpani roll and the explosive descending piano figures have entered the mainstream. Always a master of contrast, Grieg quickly shifts gears and introduces a gentle minor theme, which he lets unfold at a calm, steady pace. Throughout the concert, dynamics and tempi continue changing effortlessly, with wild piano flourishes interspersed between flowing string themes. Grieg’s only piano concerto offers fertile grounds for a cunning pianist to show their character, and Louis Lortie is sure to deliver.
It is natural to pair Grieg’s piece with Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op 54 by Robert Schumann since the two works share much more than their key. Schumann’s concerto, first performed on 4 December 1845 in Dresden, was a major influence on Grieg. The similarities between the two works are obvious, from the freely flowing time changes to the forte opening sequence with a stern, descending piano motif. Schumann wrote this sole piano concerto, and his own wife, Clara Schumann, a virtuoso with a stellar musical career in her own right, was the soloist at the premiere and subsequent performances. The music is an apt representation of two lovers’ path towards each other, overcoming societal and personal obstacles, struggling but eventually emerging triumphant. Ripe with recognisable themes and brooding, raw emotion, Grieg’s and Schumann’s piano concertos are a perfect pair for a wonderful evening with Louis Lortie and orchestra at Teatro Malibran.