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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Edvard GRIEG (1843–1907)
The Complete Songs - Volume 7
Five Songs without Opus Number:
Prinsessen, EG133 [2:55] Claras Sang, EG124 [1:25] Osterlied, EG146 [1:54] Morgenbøn paa Skolen, EG139 [0:59] Den blonde Pige (1st version), EG130 [4:15]
Den Bergtekne, Op. 32 [4:18]
Three Songs without Opus Number:
Møte [2:40] Suk, EG134 [2:53] Den blonde Pige (2nd version), EG138 [2:48]
Fem Digte af Otto Benzon, Op. 69:
I. Der gynger en Båd på Bølge [2:46] II. Til min Dreng [3:29] III. Ved Moders Grav [2:34] IV. Snegl, Snegl! [3:12] V. Drømme [3:32]
Fem Digte af Otto Benzon, Op. 70:
I. Eros [2:55] II. Jeg lever et Liv I Længsel [2:36] III. Lys Nat [1:55] IV. Se dig for [1:53] V. Digtervise [4:06]
Four Songs without Opus Number:
Ragnhild, EG181; Den syngende Menighed, EG122; Valgsang, EG149; To a Devil, EG154
Monica Groop (mezzo); Roger Vignoles (piano)
rec. March 2007, Kuusankoski Hall, Finland
Texts and English translations enclosed
BIS BISCD1757 [68:38]
Experience Classicsonline


The 100th Anniversary of Edvard Grieg’s death last year generated a flood of recordings. BIS, who have specialised in complete oeuvres, were in the forefront with a number of orchestral issues, released during the last few years and culminating in 2007. Their complete survey of the Norwegian master’s songs has, on the other hand, been quite slow in the making, the first volume recorded and issued as early as 1993. I bought it when it was new, having just heard Monica Groop live for the first time, and was immensely impressed. The disc contained some of Grieg’s best known songs: Jeg elsker dig, En Svane, Med en Vandlilje and the cycle Haugtussa, Op. 67, which is one of his most important late works. For some reason I never invested in the following volumes, though I have quite a distinguished collection of his songs anyway. Coming back to Grieg and Ms Groop fourteen years on and the concluding volume in the series was an encounter which produced slightly mixed feelings.
 
To be honest there is something of the scrapings about the material here. Many songs are youthful essays. Den syngende Menighed, to a text by the Danish pastor N.F.S. Grundtvig, was composed in 1860, when Grieg was only seventeen. Some of them were published only posthumously in 1908 and some reached the public only in Edvard Grieg’s Collected Works (GGA) in 1991 or 1995 (they appeared in different volumes). This is not to say that they are of little value. Great composers are of interest also in their minor works and works of their youth are important to give a fuller picture of their development.
 
From the first collection the first two songs, Prinsessen and Claras sang are both settings of Bjørnson, whose poetry inspired Grieg on many occasions, and they are in Grieg’s easily recognisable folk-tone idiom. Morgenbøn paa Skolen is simple and hymn-like while Den blonde Pige – Bjørnson again – are heard here in two different versions, and very different they are. In the second group Møte stands out through a nice melody. This is incidentally a first version of Op. 67 No 4, i.e. the fourth song in Haugtussa, which Monica Groop recorded so long ago.
 
About the two groups Op. 69 and 70, Grieg’s last collections, written in Copenhagen in 1900, the composer wrote that they ‘are totally cosmopolitan’. There is more than a grain of truth in that. The second song of Op. 69, Til min Dreng, is certainly Nordic in tone, but the rest is in a more generalized Central European vein. There is power and drama in Der gynger en Båd på Bølge and one can hear the North Sea roaring. The Op. 70 songs are also powerful, only No. III and IV are poetic, especially the nocturnal Lys Nat. We also note that the piano part is uncommonly active and independent in several of them; listen to the marching Digtervise.
 
Of the remaining songs Valgsang was originally composed fore male choir and there is incontestable nationalist pathos here. It was written in late 1893 – Bjørnson’s poem was published in Verdens Gang on 8 December that year and the text reflects the hostile attitude towards Sweden at the time. The tension continued to grow and eventually resulted in the disbanding of the union in 2005. The ironical and jolly – listen to the piano accompaniment – To a Devil was composed to a text by Otto Benzon, who obviously wrote it in English. This is one of the songs that was not published until 1991.
 
The one well known song and by most commentators hailed as one of Grieg’s masterpieces, is Den Bergtekne, a setting of a traditional text. It was conceived for voice and orchestra and intended for a male singer, but Grieg also prepared a version for voice and piano, although it was never published. The piano version which was published was by Holger Dahl and it was approved by Grieg.
 
Monica Groop was born in Helsinki in Finland but comes from a Finland-Swedish family, which means that Swedish is her first language. Being Swedish speaking means that she with little effort masters Norwegian and Danish as well so on linguistic ground this is the authentic thing. She has always been a vivid and accomplished interpreter of songs. Now in her late forties – she actually turned fifty in April this year – she is as responsive as ever to the texts and her interpretations are well considered and expressive. Since I last heard her in the flesh a few years ago her vibrato has widened marginally and under pressure it might be annoying to some listeners but her care over nuances and her insight still make her an excellent Grieg interpreter. Grieg’s favourite singer – of his songs – was his wife Nina, but it wasn’t the voice in itself that he admired; it was her way of employing it to convey what was in the songs. Hers was a light lyric soprano but Grieg also admired the international Swedish born dramatic soprano Ellen Gulbranson (1863–1947) for the same reasons. Monica Groop is neither a light soprano nor a Brünnhilde but I believe Edvard Grieg would have liked her way with his songs too. Some of the bloom from earlier years is inevitably gone but so much else is retained and she has the power to make even the most dramatic songs of Op. 69 and 70 tell. With Roger Vignoles at the piano we can rest assured that the accompaniments are up to the requirements and the recording is exemplary. A good essay by Rune Andersson and texts and translations are further attractions.
 
This may not be an essential buy for the general song lover but there is a lot of interest also to non-specialists and to Grieg collectors it is a must.
 
Göran Forsling
 



 


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