Norwegian Dances, Op. 35; Lyric Suite, Op. 54; Symphonic Dances, Op.
64; In Autumn Overture, Op. 11; Two Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34; Holberg
Suite, Op. 40; Old Norwegian Romance and Variations, Op. 51; Lyric
Pieces, Op. 12 and Op. 38
– Halle Orchestra/Sir John Barbirolli Bournemouth Symphony/Paavo
Berglund (Op. 64; Op. 51) Royal Philharmonic/Sir Thomas Beecham (Op.
11) Northern Sinfonia/Paul Tortelier (Op. 34; Op. 40) Daniel Adni, piano
EMI Classics 5 86513 2, 75:20, 72:15 ****:
Although I am not partial to anything like Greatest Hits approaches to
classical music, this EMI compilation of excellent, selected Grieg
(1843-1907) orchestral and piano works is a sturdy introduction to the
melos of this Northern master and national stylist. Sir Thomas
Beecham was a sterling advocate for Grieg, having recorded the In
Autumn Overture in 1955. The hearty piece is rife with passing
allusions to Peer Gynt, gratefully spared from yet another Grieg set.
Sir John Barbirolli, too, often programmed Grieg to excellent effect;
here, we have 1969/1970 readings of the sonorous Homage March, with its
opening cello quartet, and the folksy Lyric Suite, whose reading by
Nicolai Malko I would no less welcome back to the active CD catalogue.
The Norwegian Dances receives as polished an execution as I have heard.
The performances by Paul Tortelier (1973) and Paavo Berglund (1981)
represent a new generation of Grieg interpretation, streamlined and
less romantically indulgent, but no less committed to the clear and
cool articulation of the master’s figures. The reading of the
Holberg Suite is sleek and straightforward; the seamless string line
seems to play itself. The Air, marked Andante religioso, achieves a
haunted aerial realization. The Two Elegiac Melodies, though less
impassioned than the ultra-romantic standards set by Mengelberg and
Koussevitzky in my early listening, still convey a noble sentiment
without bathos. Paavo Berglund tends for me to harbor quick tempos, but
he still draws ravishing sounds for the athletic set of Symphonic
Dances; but I like better still his sinewy approach to the Old
Norwegian Romance (with occasional hints of Liszt), an old Beecham
chestnut. Grieg took his folk inspiration from a collection called
Mountain Melodies Old and New, which helped him create for Norway what
Rimsky-Korsakov and Liadov were establishing for Russian music, and
what Chopin had accomplished in fifty-one mazurkas. The nine piano
pieces surveyed by Daniel Adni capture the rhythmic and modal invention
of the composer in miniature, with only the Canon, Op. 38, No. 8 to
suggest the degree to which the Norwegian genius had imbibed the
tradition of his German antecedents.