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EDVARD GRIEG – What Price Immortality?
A film by by Thomas Olofsson and Ture Rangström
Directed by Thomas Olofsson
Edvard Grieg………………..Staffan Scheja and Philip Branmer
Nina Hagerup………………. Claudia Zöhner
John Grieg…………………..Lasse Kolsrud and Haakon Rasmos Rasmusser
Sabine Oberhorner…………..Leis Schjelderup
Rikard Nordraak…………….Michael Baral
Pianist Staffan Scheja also plays Grieg’s Ballade and The Auryn Quartet plays
the composer’s String Quartet.
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD Video 100 236 [77 mins]


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The concept of this 1999 Norwegian production, based on the troubled life of Grieg, is worthy enough. It uses two of his compositions, both very personal: the Ballade and the String Quartet, shown played in full before an unenthusiastic audience of publisher’s reviewers. This concept is used as a background to a series of flashbacks as the elderly Grieg looks back over his turbulent life. I surmise that in trying to satisfy an international audience, the producers decided to eschew any commentary and dialogue in favour of an occasional quotation from the off-screen "voice of Grieg." The trouble is that these quotes, spoken in such a whisper, and in over-awed tones by Derek Jacobi, are so infrequent that they are of limited assistance in fathoming out the story to one’s complete satisfaction. Too much is left to the imagination. For instance, we recognise - just – glimpses of Tchaikovsky, Liszt and Brahms (the latter, I think, rather puzzlingly holding a paint brush) in salons and other gatherings, but there is little, or no explanation of their significance in Grieg’s story

The photography is sumptuous: beautiful views of Norway, Germany, Italy and Denmark. Staffan Scheja is persuasive in his mute acting role as Grieg, as a man, (Philip Branmer plays the boy Grieg) but he is constantly upstaged by the more animated and beautiful Claudia Zöhner as his long suffering and neglected wife Nina. The music is sensitively blended with the on-screen story taking us jerkily backwards and forwards through the composer’s life. We witness Grieg’s boyhood, his loving relationship with his mother who was also his first music teacher, and the overshadowing jealousy of his brother John. We see his student days and his close friendship with Rikard Nordraak who died tragically young in Berlin, and his love affair and subsequent marriage to his cousin Nina Hagerup. The scenes of their courtship are lyrical and beguiling. But the music becomes anguished as the on-screen images show death taking his parents and the infant child he adores, and as he realises Nina’s infidelity. The music is disturbed as he himself succumbs to the painter Sabine Oberhorner and as Grieg’s obsession with his music and his busy touring schedules deepens and becomes all pervasive. You are left with an impression of a life unfulfilled – as Grieg, himself, put it "a life fractured" by so much tragedy.

A worthy concept filmed in glorious locations with more than acceptable mute acting but just that bit too enigmatic for complete satisfaction.


Ian Lace


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