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GRIEG: Complete Symphonic Works, Vol. V – Peer Gynt music – WDR Sym./ Eivand Aadland – Audite

Conductor Aadland concludes his cycle of Edvard Grieg in colorful style, emphasizing both familiar orchestral and rare vocal works.

GRIEG: Complete Symphonic Works, Vol. V = Music to Henrik’s Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, Op. 23: At the Wedding; Dance of the Mountain King’s Daughter; Six Orchestral Songs; Two Lyric Pieces, Op. 68; The Mountain Thrall, Op. 32; Norwegian Dances, Op. 35 – Camilla Tilling, sop./ Tom Erik Lie, bar./ WDR Sinfonieorchester, Cologne/ Eivand Aadland – Audite multichannel SACD 92.671, 66:26 (11/13/15)  [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Recorded between October 2012 and November 2014, the fifth, final volume of Grieg orchestral works from conductor Aadland embraces less frequent compositions – excepting the Norwegian Dances and a couple of the orchestral songs – of national character and arrangements of Grieg’s own lyrical and elegiac dance tunes.

Aadland opens with two excerpts from incidental music for Ibsen’s Peer Gynt: the familiar Prelude to Act I and the Act II, Scene 6 Dance of the Mountain King’s Daughter. The Prelude resonates with the forward thrust of the protagonist’s picaresque adventures, alternating with the sad lament from Solveig for the life that they might have shared.   The Dance of the Mountain King’s Daughter serves as an immediate foil, rife with seductive lust in exotic colors from piano, harp, and xylophone.  The first two of the Six Orchestral Songs extend Solveig’s melancholy chant for her departed Peer Gynt, in a musical style reminiscent of Gretchen’s Spinning Song of Schubert, moving from minor to major. Camilla Tilling makes an effective Solveig, here and in the following Lullaby, a paean to true devotion. The songs, “Vom Monte Pincio” and “Ein Schwan” have had their acolytes in singers as esteemed as Jussi Bjoerling and Kirsten Flagstad. The Pincian Hill may one day return to its former (Roman) glory. The Swan moves in a luxuriant barcarolle, singing only the point of death. Aasmund Olavson Vinje’s “The Last Spring” would become the second of the instrumental Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34.  When I first heard this piece by Koussevitzky, it had all of the sensuality of Wagner. The final song, “Henrik Wergeland,” Op. 58, No. 3 has lyrics by John Paulson that celebrate the activist and poet Wergeland (1808-1845), the “guardian spirit” who urged Norwegian independence. The song ends with a burst of national color.

Nordic moods and landscapes occupy the colors of the two Lyric Pieces, Op. 68 that Grieg orchestrated from his piano versions in 1899.  The oboe solo definitely invokes Wagner’s Shepherd’s Melody from Tristan for Evening on the MountainAn der Wiege returns to the lullaby, muted sensibility we know from Solveig. In 1877, Greig suffered from a dual impulse: he explored Hardanger, its lovely fjords and glaciers, while at the same he confessed, “I have lost the strength for great forms.” Grieg did compose his g minor Quartet and a ballad for baritone, Den Bergtekne (The Mountain Thrall). The opening diminished chord and horn theme establish a (Byronic) tone of unfulfilled wandering, perhaps more of the Peer Gynt legacy.  Baritone Tom Erik Lie intones narrator’s agitated journey into the arms of the elf-women, who offer no permanent comfort.

Grieg set his four Norwegian Dances for piano, four hands in 1881, having left the orchestration to Czech conductor Hans Sitt, who felt they could compete with Dvorak and Brahms for nationalist fervor.  The structure of the set is binary: a Sinclair March followed by three dances in Halling format. Conductor Aadland relishes each of the dances, which many of us know from renditions by other notables: Jarvi, Beecham, Barbirolli, and Morton Gould. The recording and engineering by Mark Hohn has been attentive to all of those glorious color details that make the Grieg experience unique, especially in surround.

—Gary Lemco

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