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Edvard GRIEG (1843–1907)
Slåtter, Op. 72 (Norwegian Peasant Dances) [38:35]
Norwegian Peasant Dances (Slåtter) in the tradition after Knut Dahle [33:11]
Bruremarsj etter Myllarguten (Wedding March after Myllarguten) [2:26]
Ingfrid Breie Nyhus (the Steinway Grand Piano at Troldhaugen) (Slåtter);
Åshild Breie Nyhus (Hardanger fiddle) (Norwegian Peasant Dances)
Knut Dahle (Hardanger fiddle) (Bruremarsj)
rec. 12-14 January 2007 at Villa Troldhaugen, Edvard Grieg’s home in Bergen (Slåtter and Norwegian Peasant Dances); wax cylinder recording 1912 (Bruremarsj)
SIMAX PSC1287 [74:12]

 


In the spring of 1888 Edvard Grieg received a letter from the legendary folk fiddler Knut Johannessen Dahle, the standard-bearer for a tradition of playing that he had learnt from older fiddlers. He was anxious that this tradition and the music would die with him. Since he had “heard from the magazines and newspapers that /Grieg was/ our nation’s greatest musician” he wondered if it was possible to notate the music for future generations. Grieg obviously gave a friendly answer but nothing came out of it. In 1901 Dahle sent a new letter, saying that now he was the only one left who had learnt the tunes from Myllargutten: “when I am gone, the tunes will be gone too …”.

This time Grieg answered promptly and promised to find a violinist who understood transcribing and would enjoy it. He himself was too ill. He contacted his friend and colleague Johan Halvorsen, who was enthusiastic. “Send Knut Dahle to me as soon as possible!” And thus, during the end of the year he fulfilled this task. In the booklet to this highly fascinating issue we can follow the correspondence between the two composers. When the work was completed (seventeen transcriptions in all) Grieg made his own arrangements of the tunes for piano. When they were published as his Op. 72 they caused a stir in the musical world. Halvorsen’s transcriptions were also published at the same time.

Later research, primarily from Sven Nyhus, possibly the greatest authority on fiddle music in Norway, showed that Halvorsen didn’t get everything correct. Bowing and rhythms sometimes falter and, as Nyhus points out in his notes, the three beats of the bar in a springar do not have equal value. In 1993 Nyhus made new transcriptions of the Dahle dances, which he based on recordings Dahle had made in 1912 – one of which is reproduced as an appendix on this disc. These also draw on recordings by Knut’s grandson Johannes Dahle, made in 1953. In this comprehensive process there was also a new edition of Grieg’s Op. 72, published in 2001.

As can be seen from the above, this project was a labour of love. For further authenticity the recordings were made in the living-room of Grieg’s home, Villa Troldhaugen, on his own Steinway B grand, which was a gift for Nina and Edvard for their wedding anniversary in 1892. As if this wasn’t enough: when Grieg read through Halvorsen’s transcriptions for the first time, a storm was raging at Troldhaugen; so it was in January 2007 when the recordings were made: “The old walls creaked, the rain came down in torrents, and one of the trees outside the living-room window was blown over in the storm.”

The disc should be of interest to a wide audience: lovers of Grieg, lovers of piano music, lovers of folk music – especially fiddle music – and the opportunity to juxtapose Grieg’s piano settings with the original fiddle tunes, which can be easily done through the programming function of the CD player. As an extra bonus we are also transported back to 1912, when Knut Dahle recorded Myllargutens bruremarsj. The wax cylinder couldn’t accurately catch all the overtones of the fiddle, nor the deeper notes but the listener will still sense the historical importance of these sound documents. After all Åshild Breie Nyhus’s playing of the dances is steeped in the tradition. I won’t pretend I am an expert on folk music but even to a novice it has a certain fascination.

This is not the first time Grieg’s Steinway has been recorded. Leif Ove Andsnes made a Grieg disc a few years ago and I believe others have done so as well; the instrument still holds its own. Without making comparisons with other recordings of the Slåtter I find a freshness in Ingfrid Breie Nyhus’s playing that is captivating. Like her sister she has the folk music idiom in her veins. The sisters are fourth generation folk musicians – and the rhythms come naturally to her. I would especially like to point out the ‘cool’ playing of Bruremarsj fra Telemark (tr. 3), where the syncopations and the overall pulse are executed with a jazzy elegance worthy of Erroll Garner. I will have this disc close to the CD player for months to come.

The booklet is lavishly illustrated and besides excerpts from Grieg’s correspondence there is an enlightening essay by Sven Nyhus and Ingfrid Breie Nyhus.

Göran Forsling

 

 

 


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