Grieg: Songs, Opp. 2, 21, 48

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COMPOSERS: Grieg
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Songs, Opp. 2, 21, 48
PERFORMER: Monica Groop (mezzo-soprano); Ilmo Ranta (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-957
Even the earliest of Grieg’s songs, written at the Leipzig Conservatoire, are set into clear, high relief by the Finnish mezzo Monica Groop and her pianist Ilmo Ranta, as they present the third volume in their survey of the complete songs. Ardent, firmly focused performances from the student portfolio, including the Four Songs of Op. 2 with their settings of Heine and Chamisso, are complemented by the six of Op. 48. Here Grieg is revealed as the sophisticate and the cosmopolitan: Schumann with frostbite, if you like or, in the case of the salonesque ‘Ein Traum’ – yes, perhaps a bit of a pink bonbon stuffed with snow, as Debussy naughtily remarked.

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But Grieg as Grieg had already begun to achieve liftoff in the four Op. 21 songs from The Fisher Girl, poems by his soulmate Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. The piano writing breathes more freely here, vocal melody relaxes into the inflections of his native tongue, springing into folkdance rhythms and coloured by uniquely Griegian harmonic tints.

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And then come missing pages from Grieg’s finest vocal achievement, Haugtussa. The great pastoral song cycle, with its veiled eroticism, appeared in the first volume (BIS CD-637); but here are six settings Grieg chose not to include, from the swinging and singing of the scythe ‘In the Hayfield’ to the declamatory ‘Doomed’, dark with the guilt of a bad land-deal. Hilary Finch