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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Edvard Hagerup GRIEG (1843-1907)
Sigurd Jorsalfar, Op. 22 – Introduction [2.10], Borghild’s Dream [3.42], At the Matching Game [3.38], The Northland Folk [5.58], Homage March [9.17], Interlude 1 [1.45], Interlude II [3.34], The King’s Song [4.07]
Landkjenning, Op. 31 [6.30]
Bergliot, Op. 42 [18.37]
Sørgemarsj over Rikard Nordraak, EG 117 [7.49]
Den Bergtekne, Op. 32 [5.37]
Håkan Hågegard (baritone), Gorild Mauseth (narrator)
Male-voice choir Bergen Philharmonic Choir, Seim Songkor and Kor Vest
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Ole Kristian Ruud
Recorded at the Grieg Hall, Norway, February and June 2003 DSD
BIS-SACD-1391 [74.36]

 

Although the music on this CD could certainly not be labelled Grieg at his best - none of it displays the bracing quality to be found in the Piano Concerto, Holberg Suite or the finest of the Lyric Pieces - the disc is nevertheless a valuable compilation of Grieg’s lesser-known occasional and incidental works. To the extent that it shows the public side of a notably private composer, it warrants serious consideration by any dedicated Grieg enthusiast or fan of music with a nationalist flavour. It certainly makes an interesting comparison with Grieg’s fellow Scandinavian, Sibelius, who was later to take source material of this sort as the inspiration for some of his most powerful works (Tapiola, Luonnotar, the Lemminkainen works, etc.).

As with much of Grieg’s orchestral music, the works presented here benefit from the composer’s ability to conjure up a mood through evocative orchestration (think of Peer Gynt, for instance). For an example of this, try track 2, where the warmth and drowsiness of Borghild’s Dream is conveyed to perfection by diaphanous, pianissimo strings - a lullaby every bit the equal of the children’s duet in Hansel and Gretel. By contrast, Grieg approaches the march numbers with a quasi-Elgarian relish, complete with heavy brass to underline the Big Tune, as is very apparent in the Homage March. Unsurprisingly, though, it is in the gentler, more poetic sections that Grieg is at his most characteristic. As the number of composers brought to mind might suggest, there is little here that is instantly recognisable as Grieg; indeed, the introduction to Sigurd Jorsalfar sounds, more than anything, like a missing page from Smetana’s Ma Vlast. The one piece on the disc reminiscent of nobody but Grieg himself is the funeral march, written for his friend Rikard Nordraak. Perhaps the personal circumstances and lack of time constraint (Sigurd Jorsalfar was written in less than a month!) explain the difference in quality? The funeral march has an intense, restrained melancholy that makes it stand out from the rest of the disc; interesting that Grieg thought highly enough of it to request it for his own funeral.

Although this disc will probably only really appeal to Grieg devotees (and one might note aside that if one didn’t get any enjoyment from the works featured here, one certainly would from the quirky English translation in the sleeve-notes!), with the exception of the melodrama Bergliot none of the music here is actually disagreeable listening, despite the sometimes overwhelmingly nationalistic elements (some of the patriotic music jars on the ears of non-Scandinavian listeners). Bergliot, in the violence of its expression, seems to prefigure works like Erwartung. Although obviously written in a more conservative style than Schoenberg’s piece, Bergliot is given a visceral, aggressive impact by the full-throated narrator, Gorild Mauseth. Although her approach is a valid one given the violence of the events described, I did find myself wishing that the frequent cacophonous bouts of yelling and screeching could have been toned down, to be held in reserve for the real climaxes of the piece rather than every one of the (multitudinous) angry outbursts.

That reservation apart, the performances are excellent. Håkan Hågegard sings with considerable authority and both his diction and that of the (pleasingly ‘present’) choir is impeccable. Although the Bergen Philharmonic does not have the growling, bowels-of-the-earth cellos and basses boasted by some of the world’s greatest orchestras (which would have been of benefit in the march sections), it plays with obvious commitment, as might well be expected from an orchestra whose financial security was ensured by Grieg’s will! Ensemble is excellent throughout and, barring some undernourished trombones, the balances are well-judged. On this evidence, conductor Ole Kristian Ruud deserves the acclaim he has received from the Scandinavian press and, as the whole enterprise is captured in excellent sound (the disc is a fine advert for the SACD/Surround Sound format), it makes a worthy addition to BIS’s ongoing Grieg series.

Em Marshall

 



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