Have you ever been offered a restaurant course like “oysters three ways”? They bring you three oysters with different toppings, or three preparations of beef, or three varieties of salmon, so that you can enjoy the contrast. Here the Norwegian experimental chamber orchestra 1B1 presents Grieg’s Holberg Suite
three ways: once in the string version, once in the solo piano version, and once with a jazz pianist who helped the orchestra improvise and “recompose” the piece. The original Grieg-only compositions are played as well as you’d expect. How about the new version?
Well, it exceeded all my expectations. Jazz pianist Erlend Skomsvoll collaborated with 1B1’s players and together they came up with a preposterous-sounding “Recomprimprovariations” suite. Here’s the real recipe. Take Grieg’s original, add Luciano Berio’s remixing techniques, use some of the language Berio adds to Schubert in Rendering
, link certain sections with well-considered piano cadenzas, get the double bass players adding jazz-inspired lines, and make the suite’s finale double-extra boisterous. Oh, and there is another surprise too, which I won’t spoil, except to say that something important is missing from the booklet notes.
Anyway, the Grieg originals are excellent too. The string orchestra plays wonderfully in their version, although there is a huge glut of Norwegian orchestras recording this piece and doing so successfully. You might have the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
recording on Simax, or the Oslo Camerata on Naxos
, or the Ensemble Allegria on Lawo
, or the Bergen Philharmonic
on BIS ... and that’s just from the last ten years. Christian Ihle Hadland, who appears for the solo piano version, is an excellent pianist who is basically a guarantee of quality. You may have heard his excellent performances of Sinding
The recording of Hadland is not as good as that of the orchestral renditions but if the idea of Grieg meeting Berio in a jazz club appeals to you, invest with confidence. I thought it was a ton of fun and will be happy to listen again several times more. The package includes essays detailing the project, plus photos of the performers — most of the violinists and violists standing, not sitting — and absolutely no reasonable explanation for why the ensemble is named 1B1.