GRIEG: Complete Sym. Works, Vol. II = Two Elegiac Melodies; Holberg Suite; Two Melodies; Three Nordic Melodies – WDR Sinfonieorchester Koeln/ Eivind Aadland – Audite

by | Sep 30, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

GRIEG: Complete Symphonic Works, Vol. II = Two Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34; Holberg Suite, Op. 40; Two Melodies, Op. 53 for String Orchestra; Three Nordic Melodies, Op. 63 – WDR Sinfonieorchester Koeln/ Eivind Aadland – Audite multichannel SACD 92.579, 52:26 [Distr. By Naxos] ****:
This second volume in a five-part series of Grieg’s complete symphonic works with Eivind Aadland and the WDR Sinfonieorchester embraces the works for string orchestra: a genre which Grieg mastered like few others; here, chiefly arrangements of songs and piano pieces. While the song arrangements of the Elegiac Melodies Op. 34 and the Two Melodies Op. 53 were a form of “export edition” for non-Scandinavian countries (where they were extremely popular, even during Grieg’s lifetime), the famous suite From Holberg’s Time, Op. 40 is a homage to Ludvig Holberg, the caustic “Molière of the North,” whose 200th birthday was celebrated in Bergen in 1884. For this occasion, Grieg composed a suite “in olden style” on dance forms of the late baroque (Holberg’s own time) without, however, denying his own romantic style. The late Nordic Melodies Op. 63 were written by the 51-year-old Grieg who was touring internationally as a conductor and who, in the absence of major works, broadened his repertoire with smaller pieces.
The Two Elegiac Melodies derive from lyrics by the poet Aasmund Olavson Vinje that Grieg set as his Opus 33 (1880).  Willem Mengelberg made a fine inscription of the two melodies (3 June 1931), while Serge Koussevitzky revealed the limitless intensity of “The Last Spring” in a recording from 1940. The latter piece, employing a nine-part string orchestra, achieves a Wagnerian peroration that must literally echo Grieg’s visit to Bayreuth in 1876. The throbbing power of each piece in SACD surround sonics quite reverberates in layered harmony, and those who relish the string orchestra sonority will relish Aadland’s  WDR forces, recorded 31 August-2 September 2009.
Grieg felt he had suppressed his own personality to produce his popular Holberg Suite, music he entitled “a periwig piece” in neo-baroque figures. An aggressive “Praeludium” in swirling fanfare style opens the suite at the gallop, the pizzicati elegantly sonorous. In dignified triple time, the “Sarabande” proceeds with solemn majesty, the forces divided between ripieno and concertino in the manner of a Romantic concerto grosso. A “Gavotte” in 2/4 ensues in which Grieg incorporates a French Musette whose imitation of bagpipes in the low strings adds a rustic charm. Grieg’s Air obviously sees Bach’s Third Suite movement as a model, a passionate declaration in romantically rococo colors. The folk element of violin and viola dialogue infiltrates the “Rigaudon”’s concertante ambitions, its wistful trio section rife with nostalgia.
The Two Nordic Melodies (1895) vividly declare their national loyalties, the elegiac song and the spirited dance. The Hardanger fiddle allusions capture the “slaater” tunes of the folk, the accents realized tenuto style. The Lento song conveys the same purity of line we receive from “Solveg’s Song” in Peer Gynt.  Aadland employs sparse vibrato in several of Grieg’s dance selections, imitating the tuning-up of a solo violinist and its rustic harmony against the larger corps of strings. Such is the case in Stabbelaeten movement of his Op. 63 Three Norwegian Melodies. The first of the Op. 63 pieces, “In Folk Style” originally from his Op. 17 piano tunes and dances, projects a dark legendary character we know from Sibelius. The piece then evolves four variants on the main theme. The Kulokk evokes a Cow-Call, a lolling rustic scene Mahler occasionally likes to paint in music as well. We can discern Jean Hersholt’s calling Heidi in from the meadow for dinner. The final dance calls upon a group of fiddlers to lord over an accented square dance, a Norwegian revel from whose pages Copland may have been inspired to conceive his own “Hoe-Down.”
—Gary Lemco

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