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Grieg: Choral Music - Pedersen

Grieg: Choral Music - Pedersen

BIS  BIS-SACD-1661

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Edvard Grieg:
Ved Rondane (At Rondane)
Jeg lagde mig så sildig (I Lay Down So Late)
To religiøse kor (Two Religious Choral Songs) [Blegnet, segnet, Ave, Maris Stella]
Margrethes vuggesang (Margaret’s Cradle Song)
Kveldssang for Blakken (Goodnight Song for Dobbin)
Landkjenning (Land-Sighting)
Våren (Last Spring)
I Folketone (In the Folk Style – based on Det var engang from Lyric Pieces Op. 71)
Fire Salmer (Four Psalms)

Norwegian Soloists' Choir
Grete Pedersen (conductor)

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PCM recording

Recorded in November 2006 at Ris kirke, Oslo, Norway, 24/44.1

Recording producer and sound engineer: Hans Kipfer (Take5 Music Production)

Digital editing: Elisabeth Kemper

Equipment: Neumann microphones; RME Octamic D microphone preamplifier and high-resolution A/D converter; Sequoia Workstation; STAX headphones

SACD authoring: Bastiaan Kuijt

Executive producer: Robert Suff
Reviews (1)
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Review by John Miller - October 2, 2007

Hot on the heels of Norwegian company 2L's recent survey of Grieg's a cappella choral music (Grieg: Choral Music - Grex Vocalis), along comes another one, this time from BIS. There is less overlap in the respective programmes than one might think; the short songs Jeg lagde mig så sildig from Op. 30 and Kveldssang for Blakken, Op. 61 no. 5 are duplicated, as are the Four Psalms, Op. 74 and Ave Maris Stella from To Religiøse Kor. However, Våren (Last Spring) Op. 33 no.2 is represented on the BIS disc by two beautiful arrangements, not featured by 2L, to which I will return. Suffice it to say that the quality both of Grieg's music and its very fine interpretation here means that these discs are complimentary, both being indispensable.

Seemingly, BIS and 2L each recorded in Ris Church, Oslo. Both are fine examples of how to capture a mixed chorus in an ambient environment. The 2L disc presents a more immediate picture of the choir, with an amazing amount of detail and portrayal of individual voices, thanks to the DXD process, while the chorus on the BIS disc is set back further into the acoustic, with a wide left to right spread and good back to front perspective: a totally natural sound.

It would certainly be invidious to choose between the two choirs. Both are at the top of their form and have international as well as Norwegian reputations, and their soloists are excellent.

The BIS programme is mainly of slow, contemplative pieces, often mostly quiet. With its resonant acoustic halo, it conjures up visions of multicoloured light from stained glass moving slowly over the dark church interior. However quiet and slow, the performances are also deeply considered and have great inner tension; they never drag and one's attention is held until the end of the programme. The often piquant harmonies in these scores are allowed their full effect, climaxes of great emotion often being born of dissonance, with easeful resolutions to calm and peace. 2L's programme, in contrast, varies considerably in pace and mood, encompassing folksy fun-making, deep religious fervour, pure joy and heartfelt sadness.

Landkjenning is styled as a cantata for male chorus, baritone solo and harmonium. It portrays an incident in the life of King Olaf Trygvason who helped bring Christianity to Norway. The male voices of Det Norske Solistkor begin in fine manly archaic story-telling mode, the soloist Audun Iversen entering to quote the King's words directly, making an impassioned statement of his faith in the new 'White Christ'. At this point, the harmonium joins in to amplify the drama (and signal a religious tone). This is a substantial piece of Grieg, and may also be heard on BIS' volumes of his orchestral works (Grieg: Sigurd Jorsalfar, Landkjenning - Ruud).

Våren (Last Spring)is one of Grieg's best and most enduring melodies, expressing the Norwegian's deep concern for the arrival of Spring after Winter's long darkness and chill. Here it is sung in arrangements by Greta Pederson, the choir's conductor (first verse), and Janne Berglund (second verse). In the latter, soloist Siljer Marie Aker Johnsen soars aloft with a stratospheric descant, ethereal and as pure as a harmonic. The sheer beauty of the singing in this verse makes hairs stand up on the back of the neck, and is alone worth buying this BIS disc for!

The group of Four Psalms Op. 76 is a true masterpiece, one of the most important of Grieg’s works. It was also the last piece completed before his death. The settings emphasise the depth of devotion to the Christian story which became embedded in the country's folk-history. Listening to Det Norske Solistkor's long-breathed interpretations, I was strongly reminded in places of the Gaelic folk-singing still to be heard on the Hebridean Islands of Scotland. Not surprisingly, perhaps, as these islands were conquered by Norseman and other Vikings, so there must be a common root tradition. It may also be relevant to recall that Grieg's father was a Scot. Det Norske Solistkor give the Psalms rich, dark, long-breathed interpretations, a fascinating and illuminating complement to the more mercurially fervent approach of Grex Vocalis on 2L.

This disc is a treasure-trove of beauties and wonderful sound, the choir's voices taking wing and expanding into the reverberant church with every climax. Unmissable.

Copyright © 2007 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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