Notes and Editorial Reviews
After submitting a double review of two new Peer Gynts, it’s refreshing to encounter a wide-ranging program of works by Grieg that contain something other than his incidental music to Ibsen’s play. Edvard Grieg (1843–1907) was a more versatile and accomplished composer than some realize. Grieg is largely typecast by his big-hit piano concerto, half-a-dozen numbers from Peer Gynt, and his Lyric Suite; so much of his music, including a much neglected Symphony in C Minor and a superb String Quartet in G minor, is not all that widely known. At least his three violin sonatas and a cello sonata have received their fair due.
The current release is another in EMI’s “Gemini” series of offerings compiled from their extensive back
catalogs. The earliest recorded item here is Sir Thomas Beecham’s In Autumn from 1955. Most recent are Berglund’s Symphonic Dances and Old Norwegian Romance with Variations, both from 1981 and both digitally recorded. Given EMI’s penchant for repackaging, I am fairly confident that all of this material has been available in previous incarnations. Nonetheless, having it all together in a budget-priced twin-pack is welcome.
To collectors this set will be self-recommending for the Beecham and Barbirolli contributions. Sir Thomas of course has long been a conductor admired and beloved by many. Barbirolli, on the other hand, though he never managed to achieve Beecham’s everyman popularity, was always regarded by a smaller in-the-know crowd as a conductor of extraordinary vision and insight. He is only now, I think, winning wider recognition as more of his recordings become known. Barbirolli’s Mahler is a must-hear. His Norwegian Dances and Lyric Suite on disc 1 of the current release are alone worth the price of the set. Radiant and resplendent are two words that come to mind to describe the playing of the Hallé Orchestra under Barbirolli’s baton.
Not that this is to diminish Paavo Berglund and his Bournemouth band. Their Symphonic Dances and Old Norwegian Romance with Variations are beautifully played and recorded as well.
Beecham’s sole contribution to this enterprise is Grieg’s concert overture titled In Autumn, but it’s a real winner. In addition, it’s a bit of a rarity. Grieg composed it in 1866 while in Rome. The original version somehow became lost, so he rewrote it, presumably from memory or sketches, for piano duet. Twenty years later, he re-orchestrated it. I had never heard the piece before, and I was stunned. The overtures of Berlioz and, to an even greater extent the tone poems of Liszt, strike me as major influences, but comes a Norwegian forest moment at 8:30 that only Grieg could have written. My mouth literally dropped open when I heard the recording. It is hard to believe it was taped in 1955, so phenomenal is the sound. It is also hard to believe, from the evidence of the performance, the oft-told legend of Beecham’s reputed casualness on the podium. The overture sounds to me like very technically taxing work for the orchestra’s musicians, yet they play with absolute unanimity and perfect control. If Beecham was an undisciplined maestro, it certainly doesn’t show up here.
Grieg wrote a great deal of music for solo piano, among which are no fewer than 10 collections comprising a total of 66 pieces he designated, somewhat generically, Lyric Pieces. Drawing from Books 1 and 2, pianist Daniel Adni gives us nine numbers. They are well enough played and nice to have as filler, but they don’t really fit into EMI’s “Orchestral Works” rubric, and they are readily available in more complete versions dedicated to Grieg’s solo piano music. Still, I was happy to be listening to something besides another extract from Peer Gynt.
Unless you already have these recordings in previous EMI pressings, it should be obvious by now that I am giving this Gemini set a very strong recommendation.
Jerry Dubins, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Lyric Suite for Orchestra, Op. 54 by Edvard Grieg
Sir John Barbirolli
Written: 1891/1904; Norway
Date of Recording: 08/06/1969
In Autumn Overture, Op. 11 by Edvard Grieg
Sir Thomas Beecham
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1866/1887; Norway
Date of Recording: 11/17/1955
Venue: EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London
Length: 11 Minutes 25 Secs.
Symphonic Dances (4), Op. 64 by Edvard Grieg
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1896-1897; Norway
From Holberg's Time, Op. 40 by Edvard Grieg
Written: 1884; Norway
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