The Wall Street Journal has up a fine article on Leif Ove Andsnes and his championing of Edvard Grieg's beautiful Ballade for Piano.
This work easily makes my top 10 list of favorites. I discovered the Ballade during my youth. I had a piano teacher, somewhere along the road, who used a volume called "Great Themes without Variations" (I still have it) for sight-reading exercises. One of the works was the theme from this very Ballade. It just immediately charmed me.
Mr. Andsnes observes that when Beethoven or Brahms write a set of variations, they start out with a very simple theme with relatively simple harmony. Then they make it more elaborate with each variation. But Grieg chose a haunting, melancholy Norwegian folk melody as his theme and harmonized it with exceptional richness. "It is one of the most beautiful I've ever heard, and so wonderful that it actually creates a problem: Because it is already so complete in itself, it seems hard to imagine where he can go from there."
And the places it goes!
Read the rest here.