Grieg: Peer Gynt

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Peer Gynt
PERFORMER: Håkan Hagegård, Marita Solberg, Ingebjørg Kosmo; KorVest; Bergen PO/Ole Kristian Ruud
There’s a lot more good music in Peer Gynt than is contained in the famous suites, but to appreciate it you really need some idea of the drama it serves. Neeme Järvi’s complete set (on DG) and Herbert Blomstedt’s excerpts (Decca) include dialogue extracts, but this well-recorded SACD set offers a skeletal but effective concert version of the play itself by Svein Sturla Hungnes, who also speaks Peer. It works, on the whole, very well, giving the music a sense of continuity and counterpointing its sweetness with Ibsen’s sardonic, picaresque verse, yet without becoming too distracting for non-Norwegian listeners.


Happily so, because Ruud’s performance has the drive and sparkle which characterises his earlier Grieg recordings, and the excellent Bergen playing. Some will find him a little brisk, unwilling to linger in moments like ‘Morning’, but he compensates with freshness and immediacy, and an idiomatic singing cast. The illustrious Håkan Hakegard sings a sturdy Peer, progressing from callous charm to burnt-out disillusion, Marita Solberg sings and speaks a poignant Solveig, and Ingebjørg Kosmo is a sensuous Anitra.


A ‘complete’ Peer Gynt, as we saw in Paavo Järvi’s recent one-disc selection (Virgin, reviewed in June), is a moveable feast, since to the original 26 numbers Grieg added others for later productions. One of these, the sprightly ‘Norwegian Bridal Procession’, is included here, and welcome. If you don’t want dialogue, the 20-number Järvi disc is among the most recommendable; if you want only the minimum, go for Järvi père, weightier and less effervescent; but this offers probably the most integrated experience of the work. Michael Scott Rohan