GRIEG: Complete Orchestral Works – soloists/ Malmo Sym. & Royal Scottish Sym./ Bjarte Engeset – Naxos (8 CDs)

GRIEG: Complete Orchestral Works = CD 1 – Concert Overture In Autumn; Piano Concerto; Symphonic Dances, 71:47; CD 2 – Slaeter Suite; Norwegian Dances; Funeral March; The Bridal Procession Passes By; Ballade (orch. Tveitt); Ringing Bells, 62:11; CD 3 – Symphony in C Minor; Old Norwegian Romance with Variations; Three Orchestral Pieces from Sigurd Josalfar, 72:32; CD 4 – Peer Gynt Suite No. 1; Peer Gynt Suite No. 2; Four Poems from The Fisher-Maiden; The Mountain Thrall; Six Orchestral Songs, 65:45; CD 5 – Peer Gynt, Op. 23: Complete Incidental Music, Acts I-IV, 75:58; CD 6 – Peer Gynt, Act V; Before a Southern Convent; Bergliot, 52:06; CD 7 – Two Elegiac Melodies; Two Melodies for String Orchestra; From Holberg’s Time: Suite; Two Lyric Pieces; Two Nordic Melodies; Lyric Suite, 71:13; CD 8 – Land-Sighting; Two Choruses from Sigurd Josalfar; Incidental Music from Sigurd Josalfar; Scenes from Olav Trygvason; NEUPERT (orch. Grieg): Resignation, 64:19 – Haevard Gimse, p./ Inger Dam-Jensen, sop./ Palle Knudsen, baritone/ Hans Jakob Sand, actor/Anne Marit Jacobsen, sop./Malmo Chamber Choir/ Boys’ and Girls’ Choruses of the Lund Cultural School/ Gjermund Larden, Hardanger fiddle/ Isa Katharina Gericke, sop./ Yngve Soberg, bass-baritone/ Helge Roenning, tenor/ Malmo Sym. Orch./ Royal Scottish Sym. Orch./ Bjarte Engeset  (4/28/14) [Distr. by Naxos] (8 CDs) *****: 

Obviously conceived as a huge labor of love between 2003-2009, this 8-CD set that runs 8 hours, 55 minutes celebrates conductor Bjarte Engeset’s devotion to composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) and his distinct contribution to the Norwegian national style. Producer Klaus Heymann requested that conductor Engeset undertake the project of the complete orchestral scores;  and so, Engeset seized the opportunity to delve deeply into the oeuvre of this composer whose ambitions in orchestral color remain a source of delight and often audacious experiment. The first 83 pages of the 100 page booklet are notes on each of the scores, in scholarly detail, by the conductor. The spirit of the “folk” from many regions, some well beyond Norway’s borders, contributes to Grieg’s enchanting style. As Tchaikovsky wrote of Grieg in 1888: “. . .he is deeply human. When we listen to Grieg, we instinctively recognize that this music has been written by a person driven by an irresistible pull. . .to express a deeply poetical flow from nature of emotions and moods. . .how unfalteringly stimulating, new, original!”

I have already reviewed a portion (CD 8) of the collection for Audiophile Audition (27 January 2014). The opportunity to audition unfamiliar works of Grieg simply should not be denied, especially if the set obtains for a budget price. Along with a prior recording of the complete Peer Gynt, Op. 23 by Neeme Jarvi, Engeset’s has to be among the most inclusive I have heard, and his female singers for Solveg and Ingrid communicate the required pathos. I had not heard the Ballade, Op. 24 as an orchestral piece, and the transcription by Geirr Tviett proves effective. The entire CD 2 devotes itself to works orchestrated by others, of which the Ringing Bells, Op. 54, No. 6 is a product of conductor Anton Seidl, better known for his relation to Dvorak. The cantata Before a Southern Convent, Op. 20 to a text by Bjoernson seems to reveal Grieg’s debts to Mozart’s The Magic Flute. A more ambitious Bjoernson text, Bergliot, Op. 42 (1885) addresses the conflict between paganism and Christianity, a theme Hawthorne had found dear in his “The Maypole of Merry Mount.”

For the many familiar works for orchestra, collectors can claim their own preferences, such as Sir Thomas Beecham in the Overture: In Autumn, or George Weldon and John Barbirolli in the Norwegian Dances and Symphonic Dances; the Lyric Suite from Nicolai Malko. If it’s sheer girth you seek in Sigurd Josalfar, you cannot outdo Karajan. Pianist Haevard Gimse (b. 1966) is new to me: he received the Grieg Prize in 1996, so judge his credentials for yourself. The A Minor Concerto has panache, speed, poetic ardor, and evocative lyricism: what more does it need? The Malmo Symphony certainly projects a potent aural image; besides, I have never heard any major orchestra take on Grieg’s eclectic and neglected wunderkind, his C Minor Symphony, which he himself discounted as serious.  Ever since I first heard the work by the Bergen Symphony, I have retained a fondness for its valiant sincerity of effort.

Perhaps the most compelling moments for me occur on CD 4, the Six Orchestral Songs, some of which I knew years ago from an RCA inscription by Kirsten Flagstad and conductor Warwick Braithwaite. Inger Dam-Jensen applies her brightly clear soprano, and her tone reminds me of Roberta Peters.  Two of the songs belong to Solveg, from Peer Gynt. The other Ibsen-based song, En Svane, Flagstad had intoned with imperious mystery.  Bjoernson’s From Monte Pincio and Vinje’s Last Spring Dam-Jensen realizes as poignantly as had Flagstad, and in improved sound. The last of the cycle, for baritone (Palle Knudsen), Henrik Wergeland, Op. 58, No. 3, held special merit in Grieg’s own mind “as dignified as a Norse bardic eulogy.”  The song celebrates writer Henrik Wegeland (1808-1845), a “modernist” Norwegian, pantheistic and democratically humanist in temperament. The forest-song character of the song allies Grieg as much to Sibelius and late Romanticism as any other opus in this handsome collection.

—Gary Lemco

 

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