GRIEG: Complete Symphonic Works, Vol. I = Symphonic Dances, Op. 64; Peer Gynt: Suites 1 and 2; Funeral March in Memory of Rikard Nordraak – WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne/Eivind Aadland – Audite multichannel SACD 92.651, 73:22 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Conductor Eivind Aadland, a former violin pupil of Yehudi Menuhin, served as concertmaster of the Bergen Philharmonic from 1981 to 1989 and Music Director of the European Union Chamber Orchestra from 1987 to 1997 before assuming the post of Chief Conductor of the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra from 2003 to 2010. For this first installment of his Grieg survey, he collaborates with the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne, currently led by Jukka-Pekka Saraste.
Aadland opens with the 1896 Symphonic Dances, four lovely works in national style in tripartite form, although the last assumes a grand, tumultuous character of a symphonic poem in the Liszt manner. The middle section of No. 4 might suggest some of popular “wedding music” tunes we find in the Lyric Pieces. No. 1 serves up an energetic halling that likes to vary 2/4 and 6/8, here announced in open fifths like a Hardangar fiddle of the region. The familiar No. 2 Allegretto grazioso served Sir Thomas Beecham as an eternal lollipop for his well-honed Royal Philharmonic woodwind players. Its bucolic beauty appeals to the mountaineer in all of us. No. 3 alternates between a rustic waltz and an explosive polka. Aadland exacts a shimmering and propulsive fervor out of his WDR strings and brass. The darker passages invoke a languor we might associate with the colorful Russians, particularly the sensitive wind writing in Borodin.
It was in Rome that Grieg met dramatist Henrik Ibsen, who in 1874 decided to stage his picaresque play Peer Gynt, whose “wanderings through the wide world” involves a Faustian seeking of his luck and a parade of women, until in his old age he realizes that rue devotion lay in his forgiving Solveg. Between 1888 and 1892 Grieg extracted two suites from his 1876 Op. 23 incidental music that almost instantly became an international success: in Germany prior to WW I, Peer Gynt had been performed over 5,000 times! Curiously, the famous “Morning Mood” opens a setting in Morocco, not in a Norwegian fjord. The brilliance of Aadland’s rendition in SACD only invokes Edward G. Robinson’s nostalgic farewell to life in Soylent Green, witnessing a “paradise lost” that ruthless technology had destroyed. Though I am less fond of orchestral transcriptions of vocal songs, Ingrid’s lament marks Peer’s stealing of a bride from her own wedding and leaving the abducted Ingrid alone (Andante doloroso) in the mountains. Such mischief only undermines Peer’s mother Ase’s health, and her death remains the tragic trope per excellence. Both “Anitra’s Dance” and the “Arabian Dance” appeal to an exotic side of Romanticism that Tchaikovsky, who openly admired Grieg, exploited as well. Peer Gynt’s “Homesickness” opposes the sentimental Scandinavian ethos perpetrated by Mendelssohn. After the madness of “The Hall of the Mountain King” and its orchestrated troll chorus, Solveg’s song provides the ultimate homecoming, its lilt the very essence of Northern lullaby mixed with mountain call.
Almost Wagnerian in girth, the Funeral March in honor of Rikard Nordraak celebrates the man with whom Grieg founded the music society Euterpe in Copenhagen in 1865. Nordraak led Grieg more than anyone to his native folk music, to an entire body of unused melodies and tonality that borrowed from Swedish sources. Nordraak’s death from tuberculosis quite devastated Grieg, and his march conveys as much of anger as abysmal grief. Grieg requested this march be performed at his own funeral. The wind band and percussion in this recording resonates with both subdued and unleashed fury at the Fates who stole “my only great hope for our Norwegian art,” lamented Grieg.
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