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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Music for String Orchestra
Holberg Suite, op.40 [18:35]: (Präludium: Allegro vivace; Sarabande: Andante; Gavotte:Allegretto – Musette poco piu mosso; Air: Andante religioso; Rigaudon: Allegro con brio – poco meno mosso)
Two Elegiac Melodies, op.34 No.1: Våren (Last Spring) [4:21]
Two Melodies, op.53 [7:25]: (No.1: Norsk (Norwegian); No.2: Det første Møde (The First Meeting))
Two Lyric Pieces, op.68 [3:07]: (No.2: Bådnlåt (At the Cradle))
Two Elegiac Melodies, op.34 [3:18]: (No.2: Hjertesår (The Wounded Heart))
Two Nordic Melodies, op.63 [10:51]: (No.1: Folketonestil (In Folk Style); No.2a: Kulokk (Cow Call); No.2b: Stabbelåten (Peasant Dance))
Peer Gynt, op.46 No.1b: Åses dod (The Death of Åse) [4:20]
Oslo Camerata/Stephan Barratt-Due
rec. Lommerdalen Church, Oslo, Norway, 25-28 August 2005.
NAXOS 8.557890 [51:58]


Edvard Grieg wrote a great deal of music for string orchestra. In it he showed an almost unsurpassed ability to draw the very best from the medium.  This is a little surprising, in that Grieg was a pianist and, as far as I can determine, never learned to play a string instrument.  Yet the violin is of course a central instrument in Norwegian folk-music, and he also had the life-changing experience at a young age of meeting the great violinist Ole Bull and hearing him play.
 
Whatever the reasons, the musical outcome as represented here is rich and varied, and this highly enjoyable CD contains his most extended work for the medium. This is The Holberg Suite – to give it its full title From Holberg’s Time: Suite in the Olden Style – named after an important Norwegian writer of the 18th century.  Following on from that, we have a number of shorter character pieces, finishing with the famous Death of Åse from the first Peer Gynt Suite.
 
Grieg has a long-established reputation as the most charming of the late Romantic ‘Nationalists’.  But what always strikes me is how very important he was for younger composers of the day.  His influence on Grainger and Delius is well documented; more surprising was the strong whiff of Tippett that I detected in the Air (track 4) of the Holberg Suite (thinking of the Corelli Fantasia); and even more so the clear hint of Schönberg’s Verklärte nacht in the expressive chromatic harmonies of track 6, Våren (given here as ‘Last Spring’).  I’m used to hearing it called ‘The Last Spring’, which means, of course, something quite different. Any ideas on which is correct? (see Göran Forsling's reply).
 
Barratt-Due and the Oslo Camerata give performances here that are both highly committed and highly polished.  Intonation, ensemble and string tone are all very fine, and the recording is of Naxos’s best quality.  Occasionally, it seems as if these players try a bit too hard; this is noticeable in much of the slower music, including the already-mentioned Våren.  Here I feel that something of the magical inner quality of the music is compromised by a welter of highly explicit, and possibly exaggerated expressive detail.  The same quality is felt in Åses dod, tr. 14; the music needs more sweep and a little less fussy emphasis.
 
But this slight reservation in no way seriously detracts from the many delights found here.  Some of the perhaps less familiar pieces are really exquisite; listen to the poignancy of the major/minor shifts in track 8, Det første Møde (The First Meeting), recalling Solveig’s Song from Peer Gynt.  Or the straightforwardly bucolic Kulokk  (unpromisingly translated as ‘Cow Call’!), track 12, with its mysterious little introduction.  Track 9, Bådnlåt (At the Cradle) is a little gem, contrasting solo strings with the full body, while Stabbelåten (Peasant Dance) is immensely bracing, and includes its own built-in tuning-up for good measure!
 
The disc is on the short side – just under 52 minutes – but this is largely because of the selection, which is inherently limited in quantity - though I can think of two or three other pieces I would have liked to have found here.  This is a veritable smorgasbord of simply scrumptious music!

Gwyn Parry-Jones
 

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