After surfacing from her deep and much-acclaimed immersion in the music of Czech composer Leos Janacek a couple of years ago, the British pianist Ivana Gavric embarked on a new journey, this one into the music of Edvard Grieg. She was so intent on understanding the Norwegian composer that she even traveled to see the landscapes that inspired him — and the results were strikingly clear in her impressive, insightful U.S. debut Sunday at the Phillips Collection, where Grieg and Janacek formed the core of a program that linked late romanticism to 20th-century modernism.
Gavric’s affection for Grieg was clear from the opening notes of the Piano Sonata in E Minor, Op. 7, written when the composer, heart still firmly attached to sleeve, was only in his early 20s. It’s not played often — maybe because its considerable sound and fury don’t always feel driven by any convincing purpose — but Gavric brought it to life in a fine and impassioned reading. Smaller-scale but more satisfying were the two later miniatures, “Butterfly” Op. 43, No. 1 (which Gavric played with a darting and almost weightless touch) and the rich lyricism of “Peasant’s Song” Op. 65, No. 2.