Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite; Funeral March in Memory of Rikard Nordraak; Old Norwegian melody with Variations; Bell Ringing

COMPOSERS: Grieg
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Grieg
WORKS: Peer Gynt Suite; Funeral March in Memory of Rikard Nordraak; Old Norwegian melody with Variations; Bell Ringing
PERFORMER: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Ole Kristian Ruud
CATALOGUE NO: SACD 1591
For those who don’t want their excellent ‘complete’ Peer Gynt, Ruud and his Bergen players provide the two celebrated suites with an imaginative coupling of lesser-known pieces. As in the complete set, they offer a distinctly Norwegian Grieg, brisker, more fresh-air and sinewy than usual, and this is enhanced by the vividly spacious SACD recording. ‘Morning Mood’ and ‘Anitra’s Dance’ are airily graceful, ‘Aese’ Death’ suitably elegiac, but the ‘Arabian Dance’ especially becomes rather brash and in-your-face, rather than seductive. And though Ruud whips up the pace in the ‘Hall of the Mountain King’, he doesn’t generate the sheer excitement of Beecham – who rightly includes the chorus – or the power, for example, of Herbert von Karajan.

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The rest of the programme is similarly mixed. The Old Norwegian Melody’s variations are sprightly and well judged, but the Funeral March, in its wind-band version, sounds rather coarse. Perhaps the most interesting of all here is Bell Ringing, whose unusual, impressionistic textures come over with splendid clarity in surround-sound, swelling to a tremendous climax.

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This has many attractive points, whether in its ordinary CD layer or the full glory of SACD, but for those who only want the suites and ordinary stereo there are more balanced choices. Michael Scott Rohan