Grieg: Complete Songs, Vol. 6: Norway – Five Songs by John Paulsen; Nine Songs, Op. 18; Six Elegiac Songs by John Paulsen; Songs without Opus Number

COMPOSERS: Grieg
LABELS: BIS CD
ALBUM TITLE: Grieg
WORKS: Complete Songs, Vol. 6: Norway – Five Songs by John Paulsen; Nine Songs, Op. 18; Six Elegiac Songs by John Paulsen; Songs without Opus Number
PERFORMER: Monica Groop (mezzo-soprano), Roger Vignoles (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BIS CD-1657
As usual this sixth instalment in BIS’s complete edition took a while appearing – the series started in 1994! – but it’s all the more welcome. Groop’s middleweight mezzo may have spread slightly, but it remains attractive and clear, well suited to this repertoire and fortified with Roger Vignoles’s sterling support.As the sleevenotes themselves admit, these songs – settings mostly of Hans Christian Andersen and the Norwegian John Paulsen – are not Grieg’s most exceptional. However, they have particular links with Grieg’s ‘only true interpreter’, his wife Nina. By all accounts she was remarkable in her time, a bright soprano but with a deep sensitivity to the words and an emotional involvement which made her a sensation in Italy. Groop echoes both those qualities in her darker-voiced, unexaggerated fashion, both in Paulsen’s sturdy patriotism and love lyrics, and Andersen’s melancholy pathos. She makes the Op. 59 Paulsen Elegiac Poems sound particularly appealing. Still more impressive, though, are the four unnumbered songs, culminating in a most extraordinary version of Kipling’s ‘Gentlemen Rankers’. Its drink- and doom-laden swagger – ‘To the legion of the lost ones, To the cohort of the damned…’ – naturally suggests a male voice, but Groop hardens her gentle tones to relish its explosive emphases with unexpected gusto.

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