Grieg: Complete Symphonic Works Vol. 3 - Aadland
Classical - Orchestral
Grieg: Concert Overture ‘In Autumn’, Op. 11; Lyric Suite, Op. 54; Klokkeklang, Op. 54, No. 6; Old Norwegian Melody with Variations, Op. 51; Three Orchestral Pieces from ‘Sigurd Jorsalfar’, Op. 56
WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln
The WDR Sinfonieorchester and the Norwegian conductor Eivind Aadland continue their survey of Edvard Grieg's orchestral works with this selection from the composer's orchestral repertoire which he liked to conduct himself across Europe. Not all of Grieg's orchestral works were originally conceived as such. As he became increasingly famous as a composer and conductor, the Norwegian also arranged piano works which later became popular above all in their orchestral versions. Amongst these is the suite from his Lyric Pieces, Op. 54, to which belongs another single piece, the almost impressionist study, Bell Ringing.
The Old Norwegian Melody with Variations, Op. 51, originally a set of variations for two pianos, was also skilfully provided with orchestral colours, at the same time increasing the musical drama. The Concert Overture In Autumn, completed by the 22-year-old composer during a stay in Rome, creates an exception: it was apparently conceived from the outset as an orchestral work, but was initially published as a piano piece and orchestrated at a later stage. Amongst all these innovative works, the only "original" ones are the three pieces from the incidental music to Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's Norwegian play Sigurd Jorsalfar, of which the Homage March remains an obligatory item to the present day at coronations and festivities of the high nobility.
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Review by John Miller - August 6, 2013
A warm welcome to the third of Aadland's survey of Grieg's Orchestral Works, after a somewhat worryingly long gap. It is devoted to a cunningly chosen programme which features works associated with major developments in the composer's career. Most of the pieces originated in piano form - solo, duet or two pianos, a common feature of Grieg's output, and were later orchestrated by the composer. Michael Struck-Schloen's lucid booklet notes set the context of the selected works in their period and offer some up-to-date and helpful information about the music.
The Concert Overture 'In Autumn' Op. 11 (1885) is an early work from when Grieg was a essentially a student, based in Denmark and working with a number of Danish colleagues. They visited Italy, and in particular Rome. No doubt the vivid Italian lifestyle, warmth and brilliant light both stimulated and distracted him. His only really significant work was the Overture, based initially on a Norwegian folk song, 'The Autumn Storm', and near the end also by a Norse jumping dance which came from 'The Reaper's Song'. This is a work of only mildly Nationalist aspect, and when shown to Nils Gade, then Denmark's foremost composer, he dismissed it as "trash".
The Overture was re-scored for orchestra in 1888 for the Birmingham Festival in England. Aadland's vivid reading dramatically asserts therecurrent storm motif in startling cymbal-led crashes and flashes near the beginning, interrupting the calmer introduction of the folk tune. I immediately noticed that the string tone, good as it was in the previous volumes, has gained an extra sophistication and sheen, particularly in the upper partials, perhaps partly due to improved engineering. Aadland has been coaching the WDR strings in the art of Norwegian fiddling technique, and this gives a distinctive sound, with truly committed performances not just from the strings but from folksy winds and trenchant brass, all supported by a solid bass foundation.
When Grieg returned to Norway and took up a conducting post in Christiania (the future Oslo), his main composition medium was the marvellous series of short piano pieces published as Lyric Pieces. Based on forms pioneered by Mendelssohn and Schumann, these allowed Grieg to experiment with new and unusual harmonic sequences, moving into Modernism. He took the piano score of Lyric Suite Op. 54 and orchestrated several of its movements in 1904. Imbued with colours which Delius and Debussy were generating, the orchestral Lyric Suite is a delightful gem (or snowball, as Debussy might have had it). Aadland's WDR players are exquisite in their characterisation of these emotive scenes. Listen to the artful nightingale flute in the wistful Notturno, and relish its beautifully-paced, lingering coda. The orchestra's projection of the 'March of the Dwarfs' is humorously robust and stirring - more echoes of Debussy in its trio. The Dwarfs finally vanish in a startling puff of smoke.
While the four movement Lyric Suite Op. 54 is popular and often recorded, there is another movement not included, but orchestrated, which infrequently occurs on disc. 'Klokkeklang', Op. 54 no. 6 (Bell Ringing) is one of Grieg's most original pieces (he once himself called it "crazy"!). Based on a stack of 5ths both vertically and horizontally, its low tolling basses and cellos in complex rhythms are supported by tam-tam rolls (called tom-tom in the booklet), and the movement ends with a final crash on the tam-tam, which the engineers have captured most effectively. One wonders if Debussy was aware of this pioneering piece when he later wrote about the tolling bells of a sunken city in the first book of his piano Preludes.
The central work of this programme is another which is not often recorded. The 'Old Norwegian Romance with Variations' Op. 51. Composed in 1890 at Grieg's new home,Troldhaugen, near Bergen, it too began life as a piece for two pianos. Orchestrated from 1900-1903, it is Grieg's most extensive orchestral piece after the Piano Concerto. There are 15 variations, which run consecutively, and although the titles are old-fashioned, the harmonic progressions and impressionistic styles are far from antiquated. It contains a lot of Grieg's sense of humour, with many a twinkle in the composer's eye, and some serious self-mockery in the brass-led pomposo section of the symphonically developed Finale. The orchestra really relish this splendidly entertaining conflation of novelties.
The last section of Aadland's inventive programme signals Grieg's interest in opera, specifically folk opera, in the latter part of his career. This culminated in the Norwegian National Opera sponsoring an opera about the mythical/historical King Olaf Trygvason. However, the collaboration between Grieg and the poet Bjørn Bjørnson ruptured, and apart from a few fragments, the opera never arrived. However, in preparation for its birth, Grieg wrote incidental music for a play about Sigurd I (1092-1130), including three orchestral pieces which end the disc. The last of these, a Homage March, is often played on its own. Here, four solo cellists play whole-heartedly in its opening bars, establishing the bardic atmosphere. Cymbals are once again prominent here, but thankfully they sound somewhat further back than earlier in the programme, and in multichannel seem a little more distanced.
The engineering of this disc actually tops the already very fine recordings of the first two Volumes, possibly using a higher pcm sampling rate. The very natural acoustic and pin-point instrument location is even more in evidence, while the wide stage almost seems to go beyond the speakers. Ruud's Grieg discs from BIS are also very well played and recorded in their Bergen venue, which is more reverberant than the excellent Philharmonie Köln. This offers a choice between Ruud and Aadland. On the whole, so far I'm most impressed by the Audite series, just, and look forward once more to the next volume.
Self-recommending for those already collecting the Audite series, and tempting for its particular programme with fine, but lesser-known Grieg. Most enjoyable music-making, presented with great recorded clarity and vibrancy. Look for more intriguing front pictures from the artist Edvard Munch, a contemporary of Grieg.
Copyright © 2013 John Miller and HRAudio.net