Grieg Peer Gynt; Sigurd Jorsalfar

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Grieg Peer Gynt; Sigurd Jorsalfar

  • Peer Gynt
  • Sigurd Jorsalfar
  • Peer Gynt
  • Sigurd Jorsalfar

The new DG set and Per Dreier's Unicorn-Kanchana set both advertise a complete recording of Grieg's music for Peer Gynt, but there are substantial differences. DG have recorded the 26 pieces which comprise the original version of 1875, as recently published by Peters in Volume 18 of Edvard Grieg's Complete Works. Unicorn have added music which was not originally written for Ibsen's play but included in the 1886 Copenhagen revival, that is to say the ''Norwegian Bridal Procession'' and the first three of Four Norwegian Dances, Op. 35. The inclusion of the three Op. 35 items is perhaps superfluous, since most collectors who buy a complete Peer Gynt will possess already a recording of all four dances.
There are a number of other small differences too detailed to mention, but the most important fact is that DG, unlike Unicorn-Kanchana, include music which accompanies dialogue, with actors speaking Ibsen's lines. Texts and translations are provided, which means that you can follow the argument perfectly well, and there's no doubt that the atmosphere of each number with dialogue is enhanced, for instance ''Peer Gynt and the Boyg'', where Peer encounters a strange, invisible, shapeless creature which bars his way and threatens him wherever he turns, until the sound of church bells causes it to retreat. On the Unicorn-Kanchana recording we have a truncated version of this scene, with orchestra and chorus only, the latter portraying the Boyg's allies in the shape of a flock of predatory birds. Here the choral interjections on their own make little sense. In ''Peer Gynt and the Herd-girls'' DG's trio of sopranos interact with Peer Gynt's spoken part, and this makes much more of the piece than Unicorn-Kanchana's treatment of it as a female chorus—where it could almost be called ''The Herd-girls without Peer Gynt''.
For almost a decade now the Unicorn-Kanchana version has performed a valuable service in bringing to light unfamiliar numbers from the score not included in the suites. It has also shed new light on familiar numbers through the use of chorus and soloists. The new DG recording takes our knowledge a stage further, and quite clearly supersedes the older one. DG also give us Grieg's music for Bjornson's play Sigurd Jorsalfar, where we find the familiar three movement orchestral suite expanded into an eight-movement choral work with tenor soloist.
For Unicorn Per Dreier's conducting is sympathetic, with tempos which are often a little on the slow side. He tends to make expressive points by the use of what a friend called ''thunderous pauses'', which hold up the flow of the music; but he gets good playing and singing from his forces, and the analogue recording still sounds very good indeed: DG's 1987 recording is not a great deal superior. Jarvi's conducting is just a little disappointing after his superb disc of Grieg's orchestral music with the Gothenburg orchestra (DG 419 431-1GH, ( 419 431-2GH, 1/87). He is more sophisticated than Per Dreier; his use of phrase is more precise and his tempos are a good deal faster: but sometimes he seems to hurry the music along too much so that beauty and emotion are rather held at a distance. These are not serious faults, however, and the orchestral playing and singing is all of good standard, with the American soprano Barbara Bonney outstanding in the part of Solveig.
Readers familiar only with the Peer Gynt suites will find the complete score a revelation, for Grieg emerges as a composer with a greater range of expressive power than one ever imagined.'

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