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Edvard GRIEG (1843 – 1907)
Symfoniska danser, Op 64 (1896 – 1897);
Six Songs for voice and orchestra (Orch. 1894 – 1895): Solveig’s Song – Solveig’s Cradle Song – From Monte Pincio – A Swan – Springtide – Henrik Wergeland;
Sigurd Jorsalfar – suite from incidental music, Op 56 (1872 rev. 1892):
Prelude – Intermezzo – Homage March
Solveig Kringelborn (soprano)
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Gennady Rozhdestvensky
Recorded at Stockholm Concert Hall 12 – 14 May 1992
CHANDOS CHAN 10287 X [72:50]

 

Gennady Rozhdestvensky was principal conductor at the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1970s and returned for another four-year-stint in 1991. This coincided with Chandos signing up the orchestra and conductor to make a series of CDs with Nordic music. As far as I remember this was the first result of that collaboration, and in most respects it was an auspicious start. Besides the ubiquitous piano concerto and the two Peer Gynt suites, Grieg’s orchestral music hasn’t been too frequently performed, either in concert or on record. That is a pity, since the two orchestral works on this disc show other sides of Grieg’s genius. The Symphonic Dances should definitely find a place in the standard repertoire with their lively rhythms, folk music inspiration (much of the thematic material is "real" folk tunes found in Lindeman’s large collection) and the fine orchestration. As played here by the Stockholm Philharmonic, who really seem to be ignited by the returning maestro, they can’t fail to make an impact. Rozhdestvensky has never been one to drag a phrase unnecessarily and that pays dividends here. He stresses the dance elements, underlining the rhythms and keeps things moving forward. There is always a risk that he underplays the poetic moments of the score. Neeme Järvi with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, recorded back in 1986 for DG, has a lighter touch in places, but on the whole Rozhdestvensky’s approach is just as valid. Bjarte Engeset on a recent Naxos recording is less thrilling than either of his two East European competitors.

The six songs, orchestrated by Grieg in the 1890s, were not as winning as I had expected. Back in 1992, a couple of weeks before this recording was made, I heard these artists at a concert in the Stockholm Concert Hall, performing the Symphonic Dances and also these six songs. My strongest memory of that concert is Solveig Kringelborn. It might be that seeing her, Nordic blond in a traditional Norwegian folk costume, added something to what I actually heard, but it might just as well be that she wasn’t on top when the recording was made or that she was trying too hard. Basically she has a beautiful, silvery, lyrical voice, not very large but well tuned and flexible. One can hear all of these qualities on this recording but far too often she pushes the voice too hard, it becomes shrill. Even worse she adopts a wide vibrato that is certainly un-beautiful. There is also a feeling of sameness, whatever she sings. She doesn’t sing off the text, so to speak, even if she articulates well in her native language. It isn’t exactly bad but it could have been better. She is heard to much better advantage on a Virgin disc, where she, accompanied by the ever-reliable Malcolm Martineau, sings songs by Sibelius, Rangström, Nielsen and Grieg. It is instructive to compare how much more naturally she performs A Swan on that disc.

The last work on this disc is a suite from the incidental music to Björnson’s play Sigurd Jorsalfar. Jorsala is actually an old Nordic name for Jerusalem. These three movements show that deep inside Grieg was hiding a dramatic vein and it doesn’t seem impossible that he could have developed that vein into writing an opera. The Prelude could be a spectacular concert opener, the intermezzo starts inwardly but has a fast middle section, and the Homage March has a really lovely passage for four cellos, introducing the main theme which then builds up magnificently. Here the Stockholm brass players are having a field day. If you have regarded Grieg mainly as a national romantic miniaturist, this disc should be an eye-opener and a corrective. It can be unhesitatingly recommended, in spite of some disappointment about the singing, both for the music and for the playing.

Göran Forsling



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