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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Symphony in C minor* (1864) [32:48]
Old Norwegian Romance with Variations+ (1890 orch. 1906) [22:14]
Three Orchestral Pieces from Sigurd Jorsalfar +: Prelude (In the King’s Hall); Intermezzo (Borghild’s Dream); Homage March  [16:30]
Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Bjarte Engeset
rec. Concert Hall of the Malmö Symphony Orchestra, Sweden, 22-24 August 2005* and 10-13 April 2006+. DDD
NAXOS 8.557991 [71:32]

Disconcertingly, 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. 

Grieg’s ‘forbidden’ 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. 

Ian Lace 



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