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24.10.11

Listen What the Cat Dragged In: Grieg's Symphonic Works



available at Amazon
E.Grieg, Complete Symphonic Works v.1,
E.Aadland / WDRSO Cologne
audite SACD



available at Amazon
E.Grieg, Complete Symphonic Works v.2,
E.Aadland / WDRSO Cologne
audite SACD

The first thing that strikes one about these first two volumes of Edvard Grieg’s “Complete Symphonic Works” is how lovely they are packaged: Each (multichannel hybrid) SACD is contained in a three-way folding digipack graced by a very smart design: The oil painting “The Enchanted Forest” by Edvard Munch, Grieg’s namesake and compatriot, is reproduced on each cover. On itself, the coupling of Munch visual with Grieg audio isn’t very novel. But the five children in the foreground (they are taken out on a trip by their teacher—the latter’s hat is visible on the actual painting though not here—when they stop and gaze in amazement at the forest that comes into view) remain half transparent while only one child is, in turn, projected in full color and twice the normal size. That will do for five volumes—which, in a roundabout way, begs the question: What constitutes the “Complete Symphonic Works” of Grieg?
E.Grieg, Symphonic Dances, op.64 No. 1, Allegro moderato e marcato (excerpt)


Five discs might seem a good deal of music, given that the generally known orchestral music by Grieg is limited to the Peer Gynt Suites, the Piano Concerto, and the neo-baroque suite “From Holberg’s Time”. But the Swedish label BIS (in charge of pan-Nordic musical matters) has a set of Grieg’s “Complete Orchestral Works” (with Ole Kristian Ruud and Grieg’s home-town orchestra, the superb Bergen Philharmonic) that contains eight discs. And Naxos, another label strong on Scandinavian music, extends its Grieg series (under Bjarte Engeset) over seven discs. Something has to go… something that is apparently ‘orchestral’, but not ‘symphonic’. The answer is that “Symphonic” does not include works ncluded with voice whereas “orchestral” can include these works, too, as it is the case in other Grieg editions.

The complete incidental music for Peer Gynt is also missing, although it might not be missed. The core works, including the Piano Concerto (under the above definition not just ‘orchestral’ but also ‘symphonic’), are all included, which means you'll find the Lyric Suite for Orchestra op. 54, Grieg’s Symphony (there is one), the Norwegian Dances, the three Sigurd Jorsalfar Pieces op.56, and then plenty more you might not even have known existed. (A more detailed list on audite’s release notes, here.) The musical results with the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne under Evind Aadland are wonderful in the first two volumes. The former concert master of the Bergen Philharmonic (a violin student of Menuhin) and current music director of the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra (a conducting student of the legendary Jorma Panula) makes much of this music with lively, never hackneyed, very well played, and—being live performances—very atmospheric performances. Aadland’s focus on the folk elements in Grieg’s music—based on extant Norwegian folk bits rather than faux-folk of his own creation à la Dvořák or Brahms—seems to show.
E.Grieg, Nordic Melodies, op.63 Kulokk, Andantino (excerpt)


How the Norwegian-German set, once it is a finished, compares to Ruud’s and Engeset’s will have to be heard. On individual discs, BIS also offers gorgeously designed SACDs and Norway’s finest orchestra, recorded in the splendid acoustic of Grieg Hallen in Bergen, but is quite expensive. (As a set it comes in conventional ‘Red Book’ CD stereo and very reasonably priced.) Naxos isn’t as cheap anymore as it once was, but it’s still ugly. The performances under Engeset are splendid, though. Only Norwegian purists will object, if jokingly, that five of the discs are performed with the Swedish (!) Malmö Symphony Orchestra.