Grieg • Neupert

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Grieg,Neupert
LABELS: Grieg,Neupert,opera,review
ALBUM TITLE: Grieg • Neupert
WORKS: Works by Grieg & Neupert
PERFORMER: Malmo Chamber Choir; Lund Student Singers; Malmo Opera Chorus; Malmo Symphony Orchestra; Malmo Opera Orchestra/Bjarte Engeset
CATALOGUE NO: 8.573045

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 In its struggle for identity, 19th-century Norway often looked back to its earliest founders, in particular Olav Trygvason (ruled 995-1000), historically a fearful Viking ruffian but nominally the country’s first Christian ruler. Grieg’s first collaboration with his political mentor, the great nationalist playwright Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, was the cantata Landkjenning (1872), in which the newly converted Olav greets his homeland like a religious vision. Grieg subsequently provided music for Bjørnson’s stage drama about a slightly later king, Sigurd Jorsalfar (1872). The adventurous Sigurd – Jerusalem-farer (that is, Crusader) – who brings Norway glory, is shown he should also honour his stay-at-home brother Eystein, who creates the country’s prosperity.

The success of both works, with their vibrant, stirring choruses, inspired Grieg and Bjørnson to attempt a collaboration on an opera about Olav. For Bjørnson’s prologue, depicting Viking rites honouring the Norse gods, Grieg created choruses of unusual power and mysterious atmosphere. But there the collaboration slowly foundered in disagreement, increased by Grieg’s work on Ibsen’s Peer Gynt.

The Sigurd Jorsalfar suite has remained moderately popular, but the Olav Trygvason scenes were first recorded only in 1978 by Per Dreier (released on Unicorn but currently unavailable), and subsequently by Neeme Järvi (DG) and Ole Kristian Ruud (BIS). This new bargain recording, though, is at least their equal, with vigorous, colourful choral singing and splendid orchestral colour. One really needs the words, though, and they’re only provided on the internet. Recommended nevertheless.

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Michael Scott Rohan