Cumbria Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Andrew Palmer
Group Editor
1:01 AM 2nd March 2024

Classical Music: Grieg Symphonic Dances, And Other Works

Grieg Symphonic Dances, and other works

Symphonic Dances, Op. 64; Bergliot, Op. 42; Before a Southern Convent, Op. 20; Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak;

Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra Edward Gardner
Juni Dahr speaker. Mari Eriksmoen soprano. Astrid Nordstad mezzo-soprano

Chandos CHSA 5301

This impressive disc contains a mixture of known and unfamiliar Grieg.

His Four Symphonic Dances are a late work, completed in 1898, and Grieg took the inspiration (as in so much of his output) from traditional Norwegian folk tunes. The four movements together deliver a symphonic unity in their overall effect.

As one would expect from the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, they do their fellow compatriot proud with exquisite playing, allowing the orchestral colour to blossom. No wonder it is often cited as Grieg’s own orchestra; he was its chief conductor from 1880 to 1882. The woodwind and brass excel at delivering, along with the other sections, mastery in performance and superb drama with thrilling crescendos and sensitivity. A fabulous opener to a disc that has a few surprises.

Both Bergliot and Before a Southern Convent are written on texts by Grieg’s good friend, the author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, who was also a theatre manager in Oslo. Bjørnson is considered one of the four great Norwegian authors alongside Ibsen, Lie, and Kielland; he received the 1903 Nobel Prize for literature and wrote the words for the Norwegian national anthem. Bergliot, a declamation with orchestra, tells the story of a dramatic episode involving the chieftain Einar Tambarskjelve and his son Eindride, killed by King Harald Hårdråde.

Having not come across this work, I listened intensely, soaking up its dramatic force. Juni Dahr is the narrator, and although in Norwegian, it does not detract from the overall theatrics and excitement of a piece that is riveting. I would like to hear it live. 

Southern Convent is a more traditional setting—requiring two vocal soloists, a female choir, and an orchestra rather than the narrator of Bergliot—for the story of the folk hero and barbarian Arnljot Gelline. In the course of his wild escapades, he killed a chieftain but allowed the chieftain’s daughter, Ingigerd, to live. This daughter left the homestead and wandered southwards in poverty—through Europe. At long last, she arrived at a convent, which granted her admission.

The effective opening strings set the scene marvellously, with excellent articulation, and the vocalists are well suited to their roles. The cello is a delightful accompaniment. There is a glorious moment towards the end as the choir enters with a lovely organ insinuation. At times I thought I was listening to Mendelssohn.

The Funeral March for Rikard Nordraak, a friend of Grieg’s who died of tuberculosis in 1866, was conceived by Grieg first for solo piano, but while travelling by train to Bergen to attend Grieg’s own funeral, Johan Halvorsen made the orchestral arrangement for this recording. A work played with expression and intensity, its controlled diminuendo conclusion adds to an atmospheric performance. Another reason to buy this disc.

Throughout Edward Gardner’s direction, the performances are superlative; an acme point, the recorded sound is excellent too.

If you want something new, then I would recommend, without hesitation, this magnificent disc.