Edvard Grieg Kor Sings Grieg
Edvard Grieg Kor/Håkon Matti Skrede
rec. 2018, Domkirken, Bergen, Norway
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
CHANDOS CHSA5232 SACD [64:02]
“Edvard Grieg Kor Sings Grieg” says the CD cover, which is only a half-truth, since there is music also by Ole Bull, Agathe Backer-Grøndahl, david lang (he obviously wants his name in lower-case letters) and a Norwegian folk tune. Moreover only the four psalms and the short Ave Maris Stella were composed for choir by Grieg himself, and the psalms were free arrangements of Norwegian folk tunes, while Ave Maris Stella was originally for voice and piano. The Holberg Suite was of course from the beginning a work for piano and later transcribed for string orchestra by Grieg and here arranged for the Edvard Grieg Kor by Jonathan Rathbone, who was a member of the Swingle Singers for 12 years, eight of those years also Musical Director and main arranger.
The Edvard Grieg Kor is made up of eight singers and they produce a choral sound that is both homogenous and individually bright. In the four psalms (tr. 1 – 4) and Ave Maris Stella they are amended with eight guest singers of comparable capacity and the resulting sound is truly magnificent. The guest soloist, baritone Audun Iversen, has today a busy international career and he is grandiose here and also – in the third psalm – lyrical and restrained. These psalms were his last opus, composed the year before his death and is a rarity in his oeuvre insofar as it is practically his only religious work. Privately Grieg was an outspoken opponent to the state church and he hated priests. It seems however that he had a faith in God but despised the dogmatism of the state church. Anyone listening to these four psalms must feel an honest believer behind the music. The texts are by Danish psalmists of the 16th to 18th century.
Ole Bull, world famous violinist in the 19th century and by many regarded as an equal to Paganini, also composed a large quantity of music, primarily for himself. Saeterjentens Søndag is probably his best-known composition. The text by Jørgen Moe was added later. Alto Turid Moberg sings the solo part admirably and the close harmony arrangement by Paul Robinson is skilful, but I can’t help feeling that it is quite far from the sound world Ole Bull would have recognised. The intention was of course to make the music more up-to-date, but I believe purists will regret this. The same goes for the folk tune Jeg lagde mig så sildig. It is a beautiful song and, like everything on this disc, expertly executed. Agathe Backer Grøndahl was a couple of years younger than Grieg and died the same year as he did, which implied that Norway lost the probably best song composers almost simultaneously. Aftnen er stille is an early song, from five songs Op. 3, composed when she was in her early twenties. It is a beautiful piece, folk music influenced, and the arrangement is again skilled. The two solo voices reveal that the Edvard Grieg Kor is made up of eight soloists.
david lang’s Last Spring is a setting of a poem by the composer, based on the A. O. Vinje’s poem Våren. Grieg’s setting of Vinje’s text is one of his most famous songs, which in English is often translated as “Last Spring”. The composition for eight solo voices is deeply fascinating and the meaning of the poem, that an old man sees winter change into spring and doesn’t know if he will live to see another, became even more significant when lang’s friend Kippy Stroud suddenly died while he was working on the piece when he was a guest of hers.
Ave Maris Stella is a plainchant hymn to the Virgin Mary and the roots go back to the eighth century. It has been the basis for many latter day compositions, and Grieg’s setting, originally for voice and piano in 1893, but in 1899 arranged for eight-part mixed chorus, is probably his most important choral work. Sung here by sixteen voices it receives a masterly reading, worthy to stand by the side of any previous recording in the catalogue.
Jonathan Rathbone’s arrangement of the Holberg Suite is very much in the Swingle Singers style, which is very attractive per se, but very un-Griegian. But if we disregard stylistic aspects, this is a real tour de force as choral singing, and I do heartily recommend readers interested in choral music – not least active singers – to give this a listen. Purists may frown upon this but my advice is: throw your possible prejudices over board and just savour the singing and the arrangement. And when you reach the final Rigaudon, a hefty glittering piece with a charming trio, I’m sure you will press the return button and play the whole thing over again.
Maybe not for purists but for everybody else.
Edvard GRIEG (1843 – 1907)
Fire Salmer, Op. 74 (1906)*† [22:43]
(Four Psalms) after Norwegian folk tunes freely arranged for mixed chorus and baritone solo
1. 1. Hvad est du dog skøn [5:07]
2. 2. Guds Søn har gjort mig fri [5:10]
3. 3. Jesus Kristus er opfaren [7:05]
4. 4. I Himmelen [5:20]
Ole BULL (1810 – 1880)
5. Sæterjentens Søndag (c. 1850)‡ [3:57]
(The Herdgirl’s Sunday) for violin and strings. Arranged 2014 for Edvard Gried Kor by Paul Robinson
Traditional Norwegian Folk Tune
6. Jeg lagde mig så sildig‡ [3:09]
(I went to bed one night) Arranged 2014 for Edvard Grieg Kor by Paul Robinson
Agathe BACKER GRØNDAHL (1847 – 1907)
7. Aftnen er stille (1870 – 73)‡ [5:18]
(The evening is quiet) from Fem Sange (Five Songs) Op. 3. Arranged 2015 for Edvard Grieg Kor by Paul Robinson
david lang (b. 1957)
8. Last Spring (2015)†[5:08]
For chamber choir, or eight solo voices
9. Ave Maris Stella, EG 150 (1893)† [3:32]
(Hail, star of the sea) for voice and piano. Arranged 1899 for eight-part mixed chorus a cappella by the composer
Holberg Suite, Op. 40 (1885)‡ [19:47]
Fra Holbergs Tid (From Holberg’s Time). Suite in the Olden Style for string orchestra (originally for piano, 1884). Arranged 2014 for Edvard Grieg Kor by Jonathan Rathbone
10. 1. Præludium [2:42]
11. 2. Sarabande [4:26]
12. 3. Gavotte [3:18]
13. 4. Air [5:34]
14. 5. Rigaudon [3:45]