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Edvard GRIEG (1843–1907)
Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46 [14:39]
Peer Gynt Suite No. 2, Op. 55 [17:09]
Det første møde (The first meeting) Op. 21, No. 1 (From Fire Digte fra “Fiskerjenten”) [3:48]
Den Bergtekne (The Mountain Thrall), Op. 32 [5:59]
Six Orchestral Songs, EG 177: [24:10]
No. 1: Solveigs sang (Solveig’s Song) [4:50]
No. 2: Solveigs vuggevise (Solveig’s Cradle Song) [3:53]
No. 3: Fra Monte Pincio (From Monte Pincio) [4:41]
No. 4: En Svane (A Swan) [2:18]
No. 5: Våren (The Last Spring) [4:14]
No. 6: Henrik Wergeland [4:14]
Inger Dam-Jensen (soprano) (op 21, songs 1-5), Palle Knudsen (baritone) (op. 32, song 6)
Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Bjarte Engeset
rec. Concert Hall of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra, Sweden, 23-24 May (suites), 29-31 May (op. 21 & 32, songs 1-5) and 25 August 2006 (song 6)
NAXOS 8.570236 [65:45]

This is the fourth volume in the Naxos series of Grieg’s orchestral music. The complete incidental music for Ibsen’s Peer Gynt was recorded a couple of months ago and is due for release next year (2008). The premiere of Peer Gynt was in 1876 an event which Grieg deliberately avoided as he didn’t trust the quality of the music! Despite his fears it was a huge success and twelve years later Grieg finished the first suite. It took another five years before suite No. 2 was published. Today they are among the most frequently played works, not only amongst Grieg’s oeuvre but in the entire orchestral repertoire. There is no shortage of recordings but it is a special treat to have them played by one of the foremost Norwegian conductors and a leading Scandinavian orchestra. Bjarte Engeset is probably one of the musicians who has penetrated Grieg’s works in the most depth. His extensive liner-notes are characteristically all-embracing.
This music is not showy and virtuosic, as so many popular orchestral pieces are. Grieg’s main intent was to create atmosphere and several of the numbers are quite restrained. It has been debated whether Morgenstemning (Morning Mood) really fits with the scene that it illustrates, which takes place in the Sahara. Anyway it as fine an opening of an orchestral suite as one could wish, with the sun breaking through the clouds at the first forte. Åses død (The Death of Ase) is emotional and touching with its sighing ebb and flow of dynamics. The exotic Anitras dans (Anitra’s dance) is appropriately springy and elastic. Its rhythmic élan recalls an incident almost sixty years ago, in 1949, when Swedish pianist Charlie Norman recorded a boogie-woogie version. The Grieg Foundation protested loudly and the record company was forced to withdraw the rest of the edition, which had already sold 10,000 copies; a lot in those days. Today nobody would react; back then it was something of a scandal. Much the same goes for I Dovregubbens hall (In the Hall of the Mountain King) when it appeared in 1876. Bjarte Engeset calls it “modernistic and innovative” and even now it has the power to shock with its orgiastic abandon.
The second suite is no less atmospheric. Ingrids klage (Ingrid’s lament) is a kind of counterpart to Åses død. Peer Gynts hjemfart (Peer Gynt’s Homecoming) is stormy and slightly reminiscent of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. In the incidental music Solveigs sang is a soprano solo but Grieg skilfully transcribed the beautiful melody for orchestra alone. On this disc we also hear it in the original vocal version as the first of the Six Orchestral Songs.
Less than a year ago I reviewed a BIS disc with some Grieg rarities – among them the scenes from the intended opera to a libretto by Bjørnson, Olav Tryggvason. This however was abandoned, mainly due to the fact that Bjørnson, it seems, lost faith in Grieg’s dramatic abilities and refused to provide any more text. The disc was completed with lovely renderings of the orchestral songs, sung by young Marita Solberg, whose singing really appealed to me (see review). On the present disc it is Danish soprano Inger Dam-Jensen – a former Cardiff “Singer of the World” winner. Hers is also a lyric voice but with resources to make the most of the powerful pages. The two Solveig songs are beautifully executed. Fra Monte Pincio is sung with textual insight and with both lyric lightness and power. Dam-Jensen is grandly dramatic in En Svane and invests Våren with that special Nordic feeling that among Scandinavians has made this song possibly the most loved musical celebration of springtime. Both sopranos are highly accomplished and idiomatic. Picking one in preference to the other is impossible.
The last song of the six, Henrik Wergeland is a homage to the author (1808–1845) who also belonged to the leading circles when a free Norway was emerging from the separation from Denmark. It is allotted to the baritone Palle Knudsen, presumably because someone felt the need of a more powerful, darker interpreter. Dam-Jensen could have managed the song just as well, since Knudsen’s is a small-scale reading; certainly attractively sung but rather weak. The same goes for Den Bergtekne, Grieg’s longest orchestral song. It is beautifully lyrical but misses the intensity that singers like Knut Skram and Håkan Hagegård invest in the song. Inger Dam-Jensen also sings Det første mode with feeling.
The playing of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra is first class and all through the programme one has that hard-to-define feeling that this is undisputedly right.
Göran Forsling
See also interview with Bjarte Engeset


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