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Edvard Hagerup GRIEG (1843-1907)
Norwegian Dances Op.35 (1881) Orchestrated by Hans Sitt (1888)
Symphonic Dances Op.64 (1896/1898)
Lyric Suite Op.54 (1889-1891)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Ole Kristian Ruud
recorded February and June 2002 and February 2003 in the Grieg Hall, Bergen, Norway.
Direct Stream Digital recording - Playable on all CD and SACD players. Hybrid Stereo/Multichannel (reviewed in multichannel)
BIS SACD 1291 [71.05]

The Bergen Philharmonic is a fine orchestra and they have in the Grieg Hall a fine acoustic in which the engineers have been able to achieve something I can by definition rarely say, the finest orchestral recording I have ever heard. The sound comes from an arc between, and well beyond, the two front speakers and creates an amazingly realistic picture of the orchestra from about row G in a concert hall. Since none of this music is spectacular by nature, the quality of the recording does not leap out at you immediately, but try the March of the Dwarfs on a good surround system and you will know. It is good to be able to praise a recording so extravagantly on the occasion of the companyís 30th birthday. BIS has always been in the forefront of recording and has many fine issues to its name well back into the days of LP. (Remember them?) It is Robert von Bahrís recording philosophy that he seeks an "honest sound" from his engineers and that "given a perfect hall and superb musicians, minimal equipment is enough". For more read the interview on this site. Well, Robert, this is certainly as honest as it comes. I have been impressed by several SACDs in recent months, especially by the San Francisco Mahler series which until this one arrived, were my benchmark. This one is an audio event. I shall be very interested to see what the old guard of reviewers have to say.

Being a reviewer has one disadvantage, one cannot leave well alone. In the case of this issue, this meant asking questions about the tempo in the final Symphonic Dance. That led me to listen to a recording of the same repertoire on Dutton CDSJB 1012 with Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra. Comparisons being odious, let me dispose of the comparison quickly. Listen to the Bergen performances and you will undoubtedly not regret your purchase and in one particular respect you will have bought the best there is. Listen to the Barbirolli and ignore the common-or-garden-variety recordings from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s (quite easy), and you will hear this music moulded by a musician of genius into something of the greatest beauty. Ideally, buy both because, as noted above, the present disc has something special to offer.

Ole Ruud has been in charge of various Norwegian and Swedish orchestras since the early 1980s and has won several prizes for his contributions to the spread of the rich Scandinavian orchestral repertoire. He makes much of the cascading strings in the Shepherd Boy movement of the Lyric Suite and urges the oboist in the Allegro grazioso 2nd movement of the Symphonic Dances into some really elegant playing; lovely stuff! Griegís dances are all so very attractive that a smile is bound to appear as you listen to this lovely SACD. The Lyric Suite is fairly regularly recorded but the Norwegian Dances and Symphonic Dances get fewer outings than they deserve. Grieg was apparently none too pleased about Hans Sittís orchestration of the former, but they sound very well and could easily pass for echt Grieg. In the Symphonic Dances Grieg wrote his most attractive symphony. They are much larger in scale than the more famous dances from Peer Gynt and invite just the sort of serious exploration given by Ruud. He takes nearly 34 minutes over them, compared to Barbirolliís brisker 29.40. Most of that extra is in the first dance where his Allegro is perhaps too moderato. Elsewhere Ruud directs this gorgeous music with loving care and allows his fine band to play at their very best. It is all very satisfying. Wise demonstrators should see to it that this BIS disc is in constant use to show off the finest HiFi equipment and put a smile on the face of customers.

Dave Billinge

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