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Edvard GRIEG((1843-1907)
The Complete Songs: Vol. 5
Four Romances op. 10, Three Songs from Peer Gynt op. 23, Reminiscences from Mountain and Fjord op. 44, Six poems by Holger Drachmann, op. 49, A Simple Song EG 147.
Monica Groop (mezzo); Roger Vignoles (piano)
rec. Sweden, February 2004. DDD
BIS-CD-1457 [69:02]

This is the fifth volume in BIS’s project to record the complete Grieg song repertoire, as they did with Sibelius. It is a laudable series because until the composer’s anniversary in 1993, quite a few of his songs remained relatively unknown, despite the fervent championship of Schwarzkopf and Flagstad. Though primarily a pianist, Grieg was surrounded by song, his wife Nina, and several close friends being accomplished singers. Song was an integral part of Grieg’s creative imagination. Thanks to BIS, we now have a comprehensive survey of the songs and can appreciate what makes them distinctive.

The Fire Romancer op. 10 from 1864-6, show the imprint of Grieg’s earliest models, Mendelssohn, Gade and Schumann. Conventionally pretty and lyrical they are a young man’s work. Yet already, in Skovsang, the second song in the group, we can hear Grieg’s authentic voice that would culminate in masterpieces like Haugtussa. This song’s accompaniment springs from folksong – the piano imitating the simple notes of a rustic fiddler. It was around the time these songs were written that Grieg received his creative baptism, listening to the great violinist Ole Bull play traditional Norwegian melodies, in the open air, not in a formal recital room. For the time, this was quite revolutionary, as talented young Scandinavians looked towards Germany culturally, traditional music being the staple of farmers and fishermen.

Peer Gynt tells the story of a young man who travels far and wide, but whose roots are in his homeland, where his loyal lover waits. Ibsen’s words struck a deep chord in Grieg, resulting in one of his best known pieces. Here we are treated to three songs, including the much loved Solveig’s Song. Solveig’s faith in her errant Peer operates on two levels: one as a straightforward, dramatic lament in the context of the theatre, and the other as a much deeper expression of the enduring soul of the culture to which Peer belongs. The long vocalise with which it ends might be pure 19th century tour de force to display a singer’s talents, but it can also be a heartbreakingly moving expression of deep feeling. Given that Groop is so good, and has been so worthy throughout the saga of BIS’s Grieg and Sibelius collections, it might seem a little ungrateful to say that she isn’t at her best in this song, and would be better in a different context than the semi-production-line of a series. She is more effective in the less demanding Cradle Song, where Vignoles’ playing is gentler and more lyrical than usual.

With the two Holger Drachmann groups, op 44 and 49, Grieg shows how he combined the German Romantic tradition with a Scandinavian idiom. The songs are rather uneven. The highlights, though, are delightful. Johanne, which tells of a single mother, is a warm and sympathetic vignette, with Grieg’s characteristic jerky tempi and asides. Similarly, Ragnhild and Ingebjørg, are portraits of imagined "real" women. Nina Grieg, who had an affinity for the poet, was a singer fond of dramatising her songs to bring out character: she must have been striking indeed when she sang these. In Saa du Knøsen, som strøg forbi, Groop shows how she too can dramatise and vary her tone when she captures the spirit of Gotfried Springforbi, who "hatless, unshod" sings his cheeky tune. Groop and Vignoles do justice to the high spirited Vær hilset, I Damer, where a sparkling cascade of notes on the piano leads into a refrain of refreshing vivacity. These may not be the finest of Grieg’s many songs, but this recording is a delightful experience.

Anne Ozorio



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