Friday, October 24, 2008

Some reviews for Grieg CD

The Whole Thing

If there's an earlier 'Peer Gynt' recording that's complete (as opposed to just the 'suite') I've never heard of it. This is the entire incidental music to the play, not just the usual 'Dawn', 'The Hall of the Mountain King' 'Solveig's Song', etc. Jarvi's reading is smooth and incisive and the choral parts are wonderful. I've never heard a scarier version of HOTMK. I never even knew that there was a solo vocal part for Peer himself, but here it is. My only complaint-and it's a tiny one-is that the selections are not in the order that they would appear in Ibsen's play. But that's picking a very small nit indeed.

Hauntingly Beautiful

Conductor Paavo Jarvi does a masterful job of leading the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra plays with great emotion and precision creating an exciting and almost hypnotic effect. Although Beecham's version is very good, his Peer Gynt does not come close to matching the sheer beauty of Jarvi's. The soloists on this album are outstanding. I consider baritone Peter Mattei to be the most talented baritone of his type today and his rendition of Peer Gynt's Serenade is nothing short of incredible. Soprano Camilla Tilling as Soveig has a lovely ethereal sound to her voice which is used to great effect in her songs. Tilling has the loveliest female voice I have ever heard. Mezzo Charlotte Hellekant has also grown on me as Anitra. Many of these vocal songs are not included on other versions of Peer Gynt, which is a great shame. The choir, something I don't usually enjoy, is very impressive. I would rate this CD as by far the best version of Peer Gynt and perhaps my favorite CD of all time. The sound quality of the recording should also be mentioned because it is absolutely stunning.

Good-enough readings but outstanding sound

I don't find that Paavo Jarvi and his Estonian forces have much to say in the familiar numbers from Peer Gynt. You must turn to Beecham for sheer delight in famous numbers like In The Hall of the Moutain King, Morning, Anitra's Dance, and so on. Where this recording scores is in the unfamiliar numbers; Peter Matteo's excellent rendition of the little-known Peer Gynt's Serenade is one highlight, as is the convincingly crude folk fiddling that begins half a dozen numbers. Secondly, there's the sound. The engineers have achieved quite exceptinally clear, open sonics that I've never heard the like of in Peer Gynt. Even when Jarvi's conducting is ordinary and his Estonian musician ae playing at far less than virtuosic level, the gorgeous sounds coming out of one's speakers remain alluring. As far as completeness goes, the Ruud 2-CD set from Bis is unchallenged.


The story line gives the listener a guide to follow the music, but the score leaves out the connections for the listener to only imagine the performance. The music is passionate and descriptive and introduces the listener to the singing voices of parts of the presentation that are left out in the "Suite." I appreciate hearing it over and over.

Maybe this is THE (one disc-) Peer Gynt album to own ...... to keep closely beside the gorgeous, incisively intelligent and deeply concentrated performance (also on 1 CD) with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and Barbara Hendricks singing the role of Solveig (Sony Classical). Together with the recordings by Neeme Jarvi (27 cues; DGG), Marriner (only 12 cues; EMI), Tate (17 cues; EMI), Blomstedt (19 cues; Decca), Dreier (the first truly complete recording of all of the original music (1978); 32 cues, including 'Bridal Procession', 'Solveig's Song' and three 'Norwegian Dances' all of them n o t originally written for the play; Unicorn UKCD + NKFCD) and Ruud (the first complete recording with 29 cues plus all of the dialogue, making a total of 51 cues, coming up on 113 minutes; BIS), these two (1-CD) albums by Paavo Jarvi and Esa-Pekka Salonen are as complete as can get concerning this so called 'incidental' music for the Henrik Ibsen play of Peer Gynt. Nowadays, Peer Gynt is Norway's No. 1 national epic, thereby giving this music extra significance and poignancy. Originally, there are in all some twenty-six numbers of incidental music for the play: almost ninety minutes of music, as can be learned from the booklet-essay. And according to the booklet, twenty of those are on this album; No. 5, 10, 11, 14, 18 and 24 are left out of this recording. 'Solveig's Song' wasn't originally written for the stage play but nonetheless included as such on this CD, so actually 19 original pieces from Peer Gynt, op. 23 are on this album, and not 20. But anyhow, such 'criticism' would amount to nitpicking ;-) Here I would like to warn the reader that this will be a somewhat one-sided review, as I have only ever heard the Peer Gynt-recordings of Esa-Pekka Salonen, Per Dreier (freshly inspired, very natural performances) and this newest one of Paavo Jarvi. So this review is, for what it is worth, a personal and somewhat subjective approach, leaving out many other alternatives ... Anyhow, as for the one-CD albums of Peer Gynt, op. 23, the merits of the Salonen/Oslo Philharmonic album (aside from the artistic ones, which are huge, as well as spot on as far as the 'Nordic' atmosphere of the music is concerned) lie in the fact that - up to now - it has been as near 'complete' a rendering of the music for Peer Gynt - as much as fits on one CD - as one might wish, covering the whole dramatic arc of the play from beginning to end (but without any of the spoken dialogue). I believe that this new recording with Paavo Jarvi is even more complete - as could be fitted on one disc - and gives the listener an even better feel of the drama of the play, if only because there is more singing here, namely by Peer Gynt (in the delightful 'Peer Gynt's Serenade'). Also, one hears here seldomly recorded, but wonderfully evocative pieces, such as 'Peer Gynt and the Woman in Green', 'Peer gynt: you can tell great men by the style of their mounts', 'Peer Gynt at the Statue of Memnon' (similar to 'Prelude Act III: Deep in the Coniferous Forest' on the Salonen/Oslo Philharmonic album. Actually it is the same piece, but it was never intended as the prelude to act III) and 'The Shipwreck'. Simply delightful, all this! As are all the soloists - truly, the best one could wish for! - singing in this recording. If I may steal a quote from Tim Ashley, The Guardian, May 13, 2005: "Peter Mattei is the swollen-headed Peer, Camilla Tilling a dignified, unsentimental Solveig and the incomparable Charlotte Hellekant a camp but lethally seductive Anitra." But although Camilla Tilling's Solveig is superb, IMHO she is not as completely involved-sounding or as convincing in the projecting of the troubled mind and heart of (especially the elderly) Solveig as does Barbara Hendricks for Esa-Pekka Salonen. Even more than Esa-Pekka Salonen's performance with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, this recording offers the listener a more 'true to the letter-performance', as the music is here performed as heard during the play, as witnessed by 'Solveigs vuggevise' ('Solveig's Cradle Song'), where her singing is interlaced with the 'Whitsun Hymn', which, to the ears of this listener, only heigtening the sense of drama and storytelling. All in all a fantastic album, I believe, and one that brings into focus the drama even more than other recordings of this music. Even though the orchestral playing of the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra is maybe a (slight) nodge below that of the Oslo Philharmonic under Salonen and missing out on the deepest or finer layers of melancholy and dramatic tension (which are indeed touched upon by Salonen, I think), it is warmly sympathetic and more lush (as is the acoustics of the recording venue). The really adventurous or Peer Gynt-completists (and once taken this step, the all too brief Suites will never be an option again!) should really go for Dreier or Ruud - this last one is said to be simply magnificent (music as well as acting) - but this generous one disc album, with some of the most gorgeous playing and singing, is warmly recommended (at least, in my opinion) to anyone who loves this wonderfully evocative music. Delightful!

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