To many music lovers, it seems as if the big tunes
from Peer Gynt have been with us all our lives; in many instances,
they probably have. I remember an old Marble Arch LP of the two Suites
being the first record I ever bought with my own money. Of course, there
is much more to the music of Peer Gynt, and although this Sony
disc does not contain the longest selection in the catalogue, it is
still over an hour of glorious music. All the familiar tunes are there,
but when properly heard in something like the correct sequence and context,
they emerge as even more fresh and original.
It appears the present recording was made around 1989,
when the Oslo band had become internationally famous through their Jansons/Tchaikovsky
cycle. The playing is certainly world-class, full of colour and character,
with superb contributions from the strings (including the important
viola solos in Act One), woodwind and brass. Salonen whips up tremendous
excitement where required, but is alert to the tender, melancholy moments
that litter the score. Morning Mood may be one of the most famous
pieces of tone painting in all music, but when it is shaped and phrased
as sensitively as here, and not played to the gallery, it is most moving.
In the Hall of the Mountain King benefits immeasurably
from the addition of a chorus, whose ominous chanting here sends a tingle
up the spine. Grieg’s absorption of German Romanticism, as well as hints
of Impressionism and a touch of folk influence, are evident throughout
the music of Peer Gynt. Each Prelude is an evocative little miniature
in its own right, and many shifting moods are encompassed with enormous
orchestral skill and flair.
Barbara Hendricks’s contribution in the Solveig
items is excellent, her smoky tones and tasteful restraint adding atmosphere
and dark colour to the music.
This is a hugely enjoyable selection, and will be an
ear-opener for those who only know the music through the familiar suites.
Not only is the extra music worth getting to know, the whole actually
makes far more sense for having a narrative flow. Recording quality
is first-rate, and one can only assume it was made in Oslo’s own splendid
Philharmonic Hall, the acoustic of which usually serves them very well.
There is a useful and informative note, and full marks to Sony for giving
us texts and translations for the vocal items – they are a bit erratic
on this front, but let’s hope pressure from reviewers is paying dividends!