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Dip Your Ears, No. 90

available at Amazon
Grieg, Music for Choir (arrangements and originals), The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir / Grete Pederson

(released November 27, 2007)
BIS Hybrid SACD 1661
I have been particularly, err… enchanted by this disc of Grieg’s choral music – both original and as arranged for choir. It starts with an arrangement of the popular “At Rondane”, op.33, No.2 (originally for voice and piano) which is plain gorgeous in its moody way and resonant, in full-bodied choral guise. Two religious songs were arranged for mixed choir by Grieg himself of which “Withered, Fallen – At the Bier of a Young Wife” sounds a bit predictable but touching in its cathedral-like piety. In this song, as in “Ave, Maris Stella” or indeed most of the other works on this glorious sounding SACD, the non-Norwegian ear will always pick up a certain preciousness: that silver-voiced, Christmas-choir touch with scents and touches of mulled wine, snow boots, and blond locks under a woollen hat. This is perhaps particular to this reviewer, but usually when I hear Norwegian choirs sing so enthusiastically, it’s Christmas.

“Margaret’s Cradle Song” op.15, No.1, a short gem some 90 seconds long, was written in appreciation of the birth of his daughter Alexandra in 1868. It is set to the Ibsen poem of the same name and is hauntingly beautiful. Alexandra, however, never got to appreciate her song; she died shortly after it was written. Which is tragic and yet, given that it was set to something by Ibsen, also so terribly appropriate.

Grete Pedersen, who conducts the Norwegian Soloists’ Choir also sets the first of the Lyric Pieces op.71 “Det var engang” for mixed choir. It might be the only miscalculation in that the result sounds nice and pleasant but also — in its dum-de-dum new-agey way — cheap.

Norway was already an independent nation when Grieg composed the 1907 Four Psalms op.74, his last work. It’s a sombre end to his musical output – with “Jesus Christ is Risen” being an especially austere, if moving, setting of this Hans Adolf Brorson text. The four psalm settings are based on a collection of Norwegian “newer and older mountain tunes” that Grieg wanted to help preserve with his musical adaptation. He has achieved that all over again by having them included in this very fine reminder that Grieg is so much more than the Grieg of a certain mountain king’s hall, or of lyric pieces, or a piano concerto.

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