Gardner directs Grieg

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Grieg
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Grieg
WORKS: Peer Gynt – incidental music; Piano Concerto in A minor
PERFORMER: Lise Davidsen, Ann-Helen Moen, Victoria Nava (soprano), Johannes Weisser (baritone), Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano); Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/ Edward Gardner
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5190 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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So ubiquitous are Grieg’s Peer Gynt suites that it’s easy to forget how much more fine music there is in the complete score. Here, with Grieg’s home orchestra in Bergen’s Grieghalle, Edward Gardner and a splendid team tackle the whole work with all the verve and drama one could possibly want.

Ibsen’s all-but-unstageable play, filled with iconoclastic theatrical punch, is well reflected (though it would be nice to have been provided with some spoken text or narration). There’s tender singing from Ann-Helen Moen as Solveig and a tantalising glimpse of the marvellous Lise Davidsen as Anitra. But perhaps most illuminating is the contribution of Håkan Høgemo on the Hardanger fiddle, giving pithy insight into the extent of Norwegian folk music’s influence on the side of Grieg everyone knows and loves. The balance between orchestra and chorus sometimes seems to favour the former excessively, sapping the latter of a little power; even so, you wouldn’t want to meet these Mountain King trolls.

The Piano Concerto is just as well-worn a piece as Peer Gynt, if not more so – but scrubs up fresh and energetic in the hands of Jean- Efflam Bavouzet. It’s no mean feat to bring such conviction to a work that’s become arguably too famous for its own good. Then again, there’s no need to reinvent this well-oiled wheel, and Bavouzet, Gardner and the orchestra embrace it just the way it is. In their extrovert interpretation it’s all fire and ice, its terrific Romantic sweep and relishable virtuosity matched with satisfying, poetic introspection.

Jessica Duchen