Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Peer Gynt - Incidental Music (Wedding March; Ingrid's Lament; In the Hall of the Mountain King; Morning; Death of Åse; Arabian Dance; Solveig's Song; Anitra's Dance; Return of Peer Gynt - Storm Scene; Solveig's Lullaby) (1876) [41:48]
Symphonic Dance, Op. 64/2 (1887) [5:04]
In Autumn - Concert Overture, Op. 11 (1888) [11:24]
Old Norwegian Folksong with Variations, Op. 51 (1890 orch. 1900-03) [17:57]
Ilse Hollweg (soprano); Beecham Choral Society/Denis Vaughan
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
rec. Studio No.1, Abbey Road, London, 1955-1959. ADD
EMI CLASSICS MASTERS 9659342 [76:43]

Beecham’s Peer Gynt is in a class of its own. It’s an enjoyable experience as if every movement and every bar mattered. The Wedding March is silvery yet with a determination about its delicacy. Ingrid’s Lament is furious and tense with no pre-echo despite the precipitous changes in dynamic. Throughout we experience a really lively recording - witness In the Hall of the Mountain King with those groaning drumbeats subtly but interrogatively caught. They reappear in Arabian Dance. Morning is lovely, rounded and paced well short of a dawdle. On the other hand Ase’s Death is taken very slow indeed. Speaking of influences, Hollweg and Beecham cannot help but point up parallels with Sibelius’s orchestral songs in the two movements in which she appears. Again the percussion is rendered in the finest detailing throughout as in Anitra’s Dance and Solveig’s Lullaby although in the latter the toll of the years on the treble of the violins is beginning to tell. It’s a revolutionary score and the influence it wrought over Nielsen’s Oehlenschlager Aladdin music is not to be underestimated.

Fjords, folk innocence and wreathed smiles are the disarming order of the day in the lovely Symphonic Dance, Op. 64/2. The Concert Overture In Autumn was written for the Birmingham Triennial. It’s gracious - try the oboe song at 1:10 and at first leads you to believe that here is another gently disarming miniature. In fact Grieg builds in some inevitably Lisztian tempests to catch the buffeting winds of that boisterous season. It’s a characterful piece well meriting the company of the concert overtures of Mendelssohn and Schumann. The extended Old Norwegian Folksong with Variations is another substantial mercurial and characteristic piece. It has the folksong Sigurd and the Troll Bride as its subject. Highly enjoyable.

There’s the expected background hiss but it is unobtrusive. The notes are by the always perceptive Lyndon Jenkins whose discriminating judgement winnows out the chaff and leaves us with the essential details. The notes were written in 1998.

Beecham loved Grieg's Gynt music as much as the various incidental movements from Bizet. He first recorded a Gynt selection in 1938. Twenty years later and within a few years of his death Columbia issued the ten movements on a stereo LP. That was in 1958 and its beguiling musical qualities are still there to be appreciated.

Rob Barnett