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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Holberg Suite (1884) [19.52]
Two Elegiac Melodies (1880) [8.58]
Two Melodies (1890) [9:09]
Two Nordic Melodies (1895) [12:00]
Two Lyric Pieces (1899) [7:47]
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Ole Kristian Ruud
rec. Grieg Hall, Bergen, Norway, June 2004. DDD
BIS-SACD-1491 [59:15]



All these little gems are immensely popular, of course. There are well over thirty recordings of Grieg’s Holberg Suite in the catalogues varying in quality from the excellent to the pretty dire. Bargain hunters are advised to purchase with care for there are some clinkers out there. A super bargain recommendation for the Holberg Suite coupled with Stenhammar’s attractive Serenade for Orchestra and Nielsen’s Little Suite, performed by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra under Ari Rasilainen is available on Warner Apex 0927 43075-2.

This new recording is something special. First of all the SACD sound is really splendid. The sound is warm and all the intricacy of Grieg’s multi-part string writing is clearly revealed; the sound stage perspective is exemplary. More importantly Ruud and his Bergen players clearly love their national repertory and these well-loved works sound as fresh as when you first heard them. They are played with warmth and commitment; the ensemble playing is immaculate, the phrasing beautifully expressive; the sweet sentimentality of so many of the little pieces never over-indulged, never allowed to become cloying; for instance, Ruud’s reading of Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies The Wounded Heart and Last Spring, the former gently sighs and sobs, and the melancholy yearning and nostalgia of the latter is lovingly shaped with no hint of the patronising.

The Holberg Suite was composed in 1884 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Norwegian-born Danish poet Ludvig Holberg. Ruud realises all the grace and refinement of these exquisite little pieces written in the forms of baroque and rococo music to create a Holberg period atmosphere - yet still retaining Grieg’s essential style. He gives the opening Prelude spirit and attack and there is a real feeling of out-of-doors freshness and joie de vivre.

‘Norsk’ the first of the ‘Two Melodies’ contrasts the charm of a rustic folkdance/march with more intimate lyrical material while ‘The First Meeting’ is a shy and tentative romance again very sensitively realised. The Two Nordic Melodies begin a little more darkly for ‘Popular Song’ with its shadowy lower string introduction and melancholy violin song that seems to intimate some sorely-felt loss before the tempo quickens and grief slackens to acceptance. The multi-part string writing here is most effective – at one point there is an impression of cross-rhythmic zephyr breezes. The more popular of the Two Nordic Melodies ‘Cow Keeper’s’ Tune and ‘Country Dance’ begins as a lullaby, one of Grieg’s loveliest tunes while the well-known ‘Country Dance’ is a sheer exuberant delight here.

The Two Lyric Pieces begin evocatively with ‘Evening in the Mountains’, this time oboe soloist Rainer Gibbons joining the strings to lend a lonely voice – perhaps that of a shepherd or cattle herdsman, up on the mountains - before the strings in elegiac mood pay homage to departing day. ‘At the Cradle’ ends the concert with another sweet, wistful lullaby

Grieg was a pianist not a string player so his accomplishments in this genre are all the more impressive. By the way, Grieg’s brother was a skilled cellist who helped him develop his string writing.

I must mention the excellent notes by Sigvald Tveit who concentrates on Grieg’s string-writing technique. Quoting Tveit, “Grieg writes for strings in an extremely detailed and carefully worked manner. This applies, too, to the dynamic markings. For example, he can move from fff to ppp in the course of a couple of bars. There are numerous different but typical instructions for string players such as sul ponticello (direction to the player to take the bow as near as possible to the bridge to produce a rather metallic but mysterious sound-effect), tremolo and bow-change on the same note. And he consciously uses open strings as a way of colouring the sound.”

Lovely, warm, sensitive performances of favourite Grieg pieces in superior SACD sound.

Ian Lace






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