ALBUM TITLE: Grieg
WORKS: Holberg Suite, Op. 40; Two Nordic Melodies, Op. 63; Two Melodies
PERFORMER: Bergen PO/Ole Kristian Ruud
CATALOGUE NO: SACD-1491
Grieg’s Holberg Suite, originally written for piano, sounds remarkably convincing and beguiling in its string orchestra version. For many years my reference versions of this glorious work have been Karajan and Berlin Philharmonic (an early DG digital recording of extraordinary intensity), Paul Tortelier and the Northern Strings (unfailingly spontaneous and natural sounding on EMI) and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Sir Neville Marriner (the glowingly affectionate Philips remake rather than the brilliant Argo original).
Even in the face of such strong competition Ole Kristian Ruud and the Bergen Philharmonic prove worthy contenders, especially as the engineering, whether heard via SACD (surround and stereo options) or CD stereo, is exemplary in every way, conveying the warm acoustics of Bergen’s Grieg Hall with thrilling presence. Ruud tends to rein in the tempo at the ends of sections a tad too much in the Holberg Suite for music of such overtly neo-baroque sensitivities, but that’s a small price to pay in the context of playing so enchantingly musical that occasionally one might have thought Barbirolli was at the helm. The remainder of the programme, all originally songs or piano pieces, is also memorably turned, although the first of the Elegiac Melodies might have been indulged in slightly more to advantage. Julian Haylock