Grieg wrote of his own ‘forbidden’ C minor Symphony - composed
when he was just 20/21 - that it ‘must never be performed’.
As conductor, Bjarte Engeset, remarks in his fulsome and admirable
notes: “… during its 113-year enchanted sleep (commentators)
wrote about it disparagingly: it was ‘clumsy’, ‘stiff’, ‘barely
out of school’ and not Norwegian enough”. Granted that there
are clear associations with the styles of Beethoven, Mendelssohn,
Schumann and the Danish composer Niels Gade, but it is to Engeset’s
credit that he and his orchestra and production team recognized
the youthful ebullience, out-of-doors freshness and lyrical
qualities of the work enough to proceed to record it again.
There have been other recordings including those by the Norwegian
Radio Orchestra with Ari Rasilainen (Apex), Gothenburg Symphony
Orchestra with Okko Kamo (Bis), Lithuanian National Symphony
Orchestra/Terje Mikkelsen (Simax), Neeme Järvi DG box, and the
very first recording now on Decca Eloquence with Karsten Andersen
and the Bergen Symphony Orchestra. That pioneering recording
was issued in splendidly expensive isolation on a full price
CD circa 1984.
The opening movement
is a procession of attractive melodies: stirring marches, heroic
material and romantic themes. The lyrical, tender Adagio
espressivo second movement and especially the more rustic
Intermezzo are quite Schumann-like with a dash of Mendelssohn
- influences too apparent, or so it seems, in Grieg’s estimation.
Virtuosically fast tempos inform the finale which crackles with
joie de vivre. The Malmö players rise magnificently
to the work’s challenges, sensitively recognizing the Symphony’s
subtle harmonic shifts and nuances of colour.
Grieg’s Old Norwegian
Romance with Variations is built on the heroic ballad melody,
‘Sjugur and the Troll-Bride’, stated after a short rather belying
dark introduction. Grieg wanted to show how great a potential
there was in such a folk-tune. Certainly, through its 18 variations,
Grieg skilfully assembles music in an impressive range of moods
and styles: marches, minuets, waltzes, dramatic and playful
interludes, lyrical and pastoral, tempestuous, tranquil and
pompous, all engagingly melodic.
With the Three
Orchestral Pieces from ‘Sigurd Jorsalfar’ we reach more
familiar ground. The play revolves around two brothers: Sigurd
with his calling to the crusades and the gentle home-loving
Eystejn. ‘Borghild’s Dream’ begins calmly but grows agitated
as her sleep becomes increasingly troubled, the music building
a powerful sense of dread. The Malmö players perform, with nice
intensity, the much-performed ‘Homage March’ which has a ceremonial
and regal-heroic quality.
Symphony in C minor might be derivative, nevertheless it is
a real find.
An altogether delightful
programme with all the freshness of a Norwegian spring.