Grieg: Songs, Vol. 7

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WORKS: Songs, Vol. 7: The Mountain Thrall, Op. 32; Five Otto Benzon Songs, Op. 69; Five Otto Benzon Songs, Op. 70; The Princess; Clara’s Song; Easter Song; The Fair-haired Maid (first and second versions); Morning Prayer at School etc
PERFORMER: Monica Groop (mezzo-soprano),
Roger Vignoles (piano)


This is the seventh and last volume in BIS’s admirable Complete Songs of Grieg – and, like many final chapters, there’s an air of mopping up about it. There’s a quaintly ardent ‘Morning Prayer at School’, intended to be sung by good Norwegian children; there’s an ‘Election Hymn’, among Grieg’s rather more obscure settings of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (about the dastardly Swedish oppressors); and there’s the first version of ‘The Tryst’ from Grieg’s remarkable cycle Haugtussa (‘The Mountain Maid’) – this earlier one gently lilting and wide-eyed rather than smoulderingly erotic. The wonder is that Monica Groop and Roger Vignoles sound every bit as committed to these ditties as to anything Grieg wrote. They’re disarmingly sung, and compellingly accompanied throughout. There’s some real buried treasure here too. Darkness and feverish brilliance alternate in ‘The Mountain Thrall’ – a familiar enough Nordic theme of supernatural seduction, given fresh spookiness by Grieg’s piano writing and by this splendid performance. The most substantial music, though, is revealed in two groups of songs, settings of the Danish poet Otto Benzon. The five songs of the Op. 69 are shaped by salon sentiment; the five of Op. 70 declamatory and dramatic, raging against the dying of the light. Hilary Finch