music for Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt has
become so familiar, so hackneyed that it is difficult to
take it seriously, to take it on its own terms rather then
hearing it as another piece of background muzak. However,
the familiar pieces are only half the story.
discs from the Bergen Philharmonic, under Ole Kristian Ruud,
not only give us Grieg’s complete music but interleave it
with substantial extracts from Ibsen’s play. From this we
get a very real feel for how the Ibsen/Grieg Peer
Gynt would work as a dramatic entity.
of the charms of the set is hearing how Grieg weaves snatches
of the familiar themes into the fabric of the rest of the
work; so that the prelude to Act 2 (Ingrid’s Lament) has
echoes of ‘Ase’s Death’ and fragments of ‘Morning’ crop
up later in that Act. There are also lesser-known pieces
that stand out; these are pieces that never made it into
Grieg’s concert suites and so never became as familiar.
The Herd Girl’s duet from Act 2 is a gem as is the ‘Dance
of the Mountain King’s Daughter’. This latter was replaced
by ‘Anitra’s Dance’ in the concert suite.
the scene in the Hall of the Mountain King displays another
advantage of this disc: the way the individual movements,
dialogue and melodrama can build into a substantial set-piece.
The scene starts with the familiar movement, made all the
more exciting by the presence of the chorus. The dialogue
is interrupted by the ‘Dance of the Mountain King’s Daughter’
and then is completed by ‘Out of the Mountain King’s Hall’,
an exciting musical tableau in which Peer is chased by the
Trolls and which nicely balances the opening ‘In the Hall
of the Mountain King’.
3 closes with the death of Peer’s mother, Ase. The prelude
to the scene, the well known ‘Ase’s Death’, also underscores
the point at which Peer fantasizes about his mother taking
a magical sleigh-ride to heaven.
process of building a set-piece out of fragments is also
seen in the Arabian scene in Act 4, here we have the Arabian
Dance, which includes chorus and a solo for Anitra, Anitra’s
Dance, Peer’s Serenade and a closing orchestral interlude.
All are linked by dialogue and melodrama to make a satisfying
sequence. This is closely followed by Solveig’s Song, made
all the more poignant by the Arab scene which precedes it.
the opening of Act 5 Grieg provides an atmospheric storm
at sea followed by a ship-wreck; in effect a mini two-part
tone poem. The end of the play, when the ageing Peer returns
to Solveig, is rescued from potential bathos by the way
that Grieg intertwines Solveig’s Lullaby with the choral
Whitsuntide Hymn to create something that is almost transcendent.
is difficult to believe that Grieg had so much trouble writing
this music; it took him 18 months of hard work. But the
result fits well with Ibsen’s text. The Bergen Philharmonic
Orchestra give exemplary performances under Ole Kristian
Ruud, making even the most hackneyed of movements sound
new-minted. For two pieces, they add a real Hardanger Fiddle
to the ensemble. Though the Halling and Springar
dances are original compositions by Grieg, they are shot
through with his knowledge of the Hardanger Fiddle folk
musicians are supported by a fine cast of singers and actors.
Håkan Hagegård is luxury casting as the singing voice of
Peer. Marita Solberg both sings and speaks Solveig most
affectingly. Ingebjørg Kosmo is the charming singing voice
of Anitra. A cast of six actors speak Ibsen’s text but the
bulk of the work goes to Svein Sturla Hungnes who takes
the part of Peer Gynt. His expressive voice holds the attention
even though speaking Norwegian.
there lies the problem with this set; there is rather a
lot of spoken text, the set comes over rather like a radio
play. And effective though this is, not everyone will appreciate
so much Norwegian dialogue. Personally I love the sound
of the Norwegian language but this won’t be to everyone’s
taste. But if so much dialogue bothers you, then there are
a number of other fine performances of Peer Gynt which include
much if not all of the music. For me, these discs provide
a wonderfully refreshing view of Grieg’s music, in fine
idiomatic performances. They have an essential place on
my library shelves.