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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Lyric Music
Claire Booth (soprano)
Christopher Glynn (piano)
rec. 2018-2019, Potton Hall, UK
Sung texts with English translation enclosed.
AVIE AV2403 [71:59]

“Artists like Bach and Beethoven erected churches and temples on the heights. I only wanted to build dwellings for men in which they might feel happy and at home.” The words are Edvard Grieg’s and I couldn’t resist quoting them – as also Claire Booth and Christopher Glynn do in their preface to the liner notes. There they also discuss the layout of the programme: How should these tiny vignettes be arranged? ‘Tiny vignettes’ may sound condescending, but I don’t think that’s their intention. Grieg was a miniaturist and was fully aware of that. He made some attempts at building larger dwellings but he never reached the heights of the monuments that Bach and Beethoven created. His large scale masterpiece is of course the piano concerto, but I imagine that in Grieg’s vocabulary he at the very most regarded it as a rural manor. But within his self-chosen limitations he created masterpieces of the greatest distinction that shouldn’t be belittled with an added ‘minor’. ‘Little is more’ is a favourite expression of mine, and it suits Grieg’s music to perfection. He says what is necessary to say – and no more.

The two artists finally settled for the song cycle Haugtussa as the centrepiece of the programme with two sequences of songs and piano pieces to frame it. Half of those independent pieces were instrumental pieces but, as Katie Hamilton says in her liner notes to this issue, “Yet there is singing in every track of this disc, even where the singer herself is absent”. Grieg’s melodic gift was such that he could make the piano sing. His ten books of Lyric Pieces, which cover most of his creative life, could just as well have been titled Songs without Words, as Mendelssohn named his corresponding works. To underline this closeness between vocal and instrumental song, Claire Booth and Christopher Glynn have minimised the pauses between the individual pieces to such extent that the listener hardly notices where one piece ends and the next begins. They are almost seamlessly joined.

Basically the earlier music on the disc is connected to the innocence which is the essence of the opening songs of Haugtussa, while the later sequence is darker, mirroring her growth and development after the tryst pictured in the fourth song of Haugtussa. Many of the independent songs are well-known, Med en Vandlilje for instance, and Jeg elsker Dig, others are probably less familiar, but Grieg’s songs are generally so substantial that serious lovers of art songs can always find things to admire – and return to, since they often open up at closer acquaintance. Nobel Prize Winner Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson almost always inspired Grieg to give of his best, and Den hvide, røde Rose, Prinsessen and Dulgt Kjaerlighed are all little gems. Likewise the Lyric Pieces are far more than the parlour pieces they sometimes were reputed to belong to. Listen to the three pieces from Book I, Norwegisch and Volksweise, both with a distinct Nordic character and the Arietta, which concludes the whole recital. We also find the etheric, fluttering Sommerfugl (Butterfly), the lively and energetic Hjemad (Homewards) and the most advanced for its time, Klokkeklang, imitating church-bells and pointing forward to Debussy’s impressionism. But it is Haugtussa we tend to return to over and over again. Arne Garborg published this verse novel in 1895 and Grieg assembled eight of the poems – out of 71 – to catch the central moments in the story about the young innocent maid, Veslemøy, who lives in close contact with the folks of nature, trolls and other creatures that normal people can’t see. Grieg has depicted them both in some of the Lyric pieces and, most memorably in Peer Gynt. Veslemøy meets Per, a young man, in the middle of the cycle and they have a love affair, but Per deserts her and in the final song, Ved Gjaetle-Bekken, the brook “bring[s]comfort, rest, and the chance to forget and dream in the enchantment of the hill”, to quote a line from Katie Hamilton’s utterly penetrating analysis in the liner notes.

Many great singers have interpreted this cycle through the years. Nina Hagerup, Edvard Grieg’s wife, was the first interpreter, but her readings were never recorded for posterity, even though she made a couple of vax-cylinder recordings of other songs in very poor sound. She actually survived her husband by 28 years and died in 1935 aged 90. But the great Kirsten Flagstad recorded the cycle three times. The first, from 1940, is to be preferred, mainly for a more lyrical approach and a less matronly tone that crept in during her later years. Since then many prominent singers have set down the cycle and I believe I have close to a dozen versions that all have considerable merits. Among them are Katarina Karneus, Anne Sofie von Otter, Monica Groop plus several Norwegian singers: Bodil Arnesen, Marianne Beate Kielland and Siri Karoline Thornhill. It’s no easy task to pick a clear winner and this cycle can stand different approaches. Flagstad is, for instance, a great deal slower than most of the others. My two personal favourites are Anne Sofie von Otter and Monica Groop – the latter in a BIS box with the complete songs by Grieg. I’m afraid Claire Booth can’t quite measure up against this competition, even though she has a firm grip of the cycle at large and has a deep understanding of Veslemøy’s early joy and late sorrow. But her delivery is a bit uneven and the brightness of her tone can give her voice a certain stridency. That stridency isn’t completely absent in the other songs either, but by and large this is a very attractive programme, that works eminently as a tightly knit unity, where the lyrical aspects of the Art of Edvard Grieg is firmly in focus. Christopher Glynn’s playing, whether as accompanist or solo pianist, is utterly satisfying.

Göran Forsling

1. Den hvide, røde Rose EG 137 [1:45]
2. Norwegisch from Lyric Pieces, Book I, Op. 12 [1:02]
3. Volksweise from Lyric Pieces Book I, Op. 12 [1:28]
4. Mens jeg venter from Digte Op. 60 [2:05]
5. Sylphe from Lyric Pieces, Book VII, Op. 62 [1:34]
6. Med en Vandlilje from Ibsensangene Op. 25 [1:54]
7. Sommerfugl from Lyric Pieces, Book III, Op. 43 [1:41]
8. Melodi from Lyric Pieces, Book IV, Op. 47 [3:11]
9. Prinsessen EG 133 [2:31]
10. Dulgt Kjaerlighed from Romancer Op. 39 [2:06]
11. Hjemad from Lyric Pieces Book VII Op. 62 [3:10]
Haugtussa Op. 67:
12. I. Det Syng [3:20]
13. II. Veslemøy [2:13]
14. III. Blåbaer-Li [2:52]
15. IV. Møte [3:41]
16. V. Elsk [2:22]
17. VI. Killingdans [1:47]
18. VII. Vond Dag [2:19]
19. VIII. Ved Gjaetle-Bekken [6:04]
20. Drömmesyn from Lyric Pieces Book VII, Op. 62 [2:33]
21. Jeg elsker Dig from Hjertets melodier Op. 5 [1:18]
22. Når jeg vil dø from Elegiske Digte Op. 59 [1:29]
23. Den Ærgjerrige from Fem Digte Op. 26 [1:17]
24. Svundne Dage from Lyric Pieces, Book VI, Op. 57 [6:35]
25. Ved en ung Hustrus Båre, from Romancer Op. 39 [4:17]
26. Klokkeklang from Lyric Pieces, Book VI Op. 54 [4:18]
27. Stambogsrim from Ibsensangene, Op. 25 [1:46]
28. Arietta from Lyric Pieces, Book I Op. 12 [1:17]

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