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Briefly Noted: Nielsen's Piano Music

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C. Nielsen, Complete Piano Music, C. Bjørkøe
(2008, 2 CDs)
The music of Danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) is always worth discovering, rare as it is. Nielsen made his musical living as a violinist, but he learned the piano from a young age and began most of his compositional work at the keyboard. Over the course of his life he composed enough solo piano pieces (see also the extraordinary Carl Nielsen Edition) to fill only two discs, presented in chronological order on this recent set from Danish pianist Christina Bjørkøe. Other pianists have recorded all or some of Nielsen's piano music, most famously Leif Ove Andsnes, but Bjørkøe's introspective, sometimes wild-hearted approach makes this an attractive option. Nielsen excelled at the charming miniature -- with examples collected together as the Five Piano Pieces, op. 3, Humoresque-Bagatelles, op. 11, and the Piano Music for Young and Old, op. 53 -- many of which could make delightful little encore pieces. His more substantial works are especially interesting as his harmonic idiom became more unusual, after about the Chaconne, op. 32, and the Theme and Variations, op. 40.

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