Grieg: Peer Gynt

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Grieg
LABELS: Virgin
ALBUM TITLE: Grieg – Peer Gynt
WORKS: Peer Gynt
PERFORMER: Camilla Tilling (soprano), Charlotte Hellekant (mezzo-soprano), Peter Mattei (baritone); Ellerhein Girls Choir, Estonian National Male Choir, Estonian National SO/Paavo Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: 545 7222
Like his nemesis the Boyg, Peer Gynt appears in many forms. The two suites don’t fill a CD, but the full score, 26 numbers plus others Grieg added for later productions, overflows it. It’s more usual these days to select 20 or so of the main numbers, which is what Paavo Järvi has done here.

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This is a very clean-cut, airy reading that avoids excessive sweetness and achieves a sense of drama as propulsive as a film score. Järvi’s orchestra responds splendidly, with what sounds like a real Hardanger fiddle adding its tangy tone to the solos, and excellent vocal forces. The Estonian chorus launches enthusiastically into ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’, which Järvi builds up with real power, if less excitingly than Beecham’s EMI version. Peter Mattei sings a suitably swaggering Peer, Charlotte Hellekant seductively Arabian and Camilla Tilling a serenely beautiful Solveig, though more ‘operatic’ than Barbara Bonney in the complete set on DG, with dialogue extracts, by Järvi’s father Neeme. That remains a benchmark, but among innumerable single-disc versions you won’t go far wrong with this one.

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A brief mention about the first full-length set, apparently, to include the complete play, now released by Aeon: this is, however, in French with Norwegian lyrics. An Anglo-Norwegian version of this is promised later this year when it will be reviewed, but at first hearing the performance does not equal either Järvi. Michael Scott Rohan