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Penguin Guide, January 2009

This delightful collection, dazzlingly performed by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under the young Norwegian conductor Bjarte Engeset, brings together some of the composer’s most attractive folk-based pieces, only one of which (Bell-Ringing) is by Grieg himself. They include two which justifiably have become favourites, the Bridal Procession and the second of the Norwegian Dances, Op. 35, also used in the Peer Gynt music. Not only are Engeset’s readings idiomatic, they each have a jauntily winning rhythmic spring. Different from the rest in its extended structure is the orchestration of Grieg’s piano Ballade, an extended piece, one of Grieg’s most deeply felt works, inspired by the death of his parents but also echoing Norwegian folk-music. The collection consistently reinforces the idea that Grieg was seeking to offer Norwegian counterparts of Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, with the original piano pieces beautifully orchestrated by various musicians, including the composer himself. Different from the rest is the Funeral March, which reveals Grieg’s genius for writing solemn celebratory music as well.




Christopher Latham
Limelight Magazine, November 2007

Grieg wrote surprisingly little for orchestra. His catalogue is mainly dominated by songs, works for choir and piano pieces, and this CD presents some of those piano works orchestrated by other composers. The end result still sounds like Grieg, and the material is unusually striking, especially the climatic work, his Ballade Op. 24, in a stunning orchestration by Geirr Tveitt. Grieg’s lack of sympathy with the orchestra may have been a result of his early music training at Leipzig where he was deeply unhappy, eventually contracting a severe case of pleurisy from which he never really recovered. The experience left him deeply aware of the limitations of German culture, and propelled him to seek out examples of Nordic culture to copy and develop. It was the Norwegian composer Rikard Nordraak, the composer of the Norwegian National Anthem, who would introduce Grieg to Norwegian folk music. Grieg was shattered to hear only two years later of Nordraak’s death at the age of 24, and wrote the Funeral March here in his memory.

Of the other works, the Slåtter (Norwegian Hardanger fiddle tunes) were first annotated by Johan Halvorsen, then transcribed for piano by Grieg, and finally arranged for orchestra by Sommerfeldt. These very late works of Grieg’s are totally charming and deserve to be better known, as does the intriguing Ringing Bells which contains moments of real magic. Bjarte Engeset leads the RSNO in this definitive set of recordings. A must-have for any Nordic fans.



William Kreindler
MusicWeb International, September 2007

Most of Grieg's works involve the piano, either in the form of songs, piano music or chamber music. Many of these works have proved irresistible to orchestrators, to say nothing of the composer himself as orchestrator. On this disc we have music that was written for the piano and well-known as such, but later orchestrated by others, or in one case orchestrated by another hand and then revised by Grieg. Several times while listening to this disc I had the reaction "... this is how Grieg should sound ..." Engeset's firm control over what sounds like a Norwegian orchestra produces Grieg that would be hard to beat. Another winner for Naxos."



Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, August 2007

Like most Nordic composers during the late 19th century also Edvard Grieg had most of his education in accordance with the German school, a fact that he regarded as a limitation. The German heaviness was simply not compatible with the Norwegians’ love of “clarity and brevity” and he mentioned “the Italian light, the richness of Russian colour, and not least the clarity and lightness of France.” When his publisher, Peters Edition, in 1890 suggested that Hungarian-Czech composer Hans Sitt orchestrate what is probably the most well-known music on this disc, the Norwegian Dances, Op. 35, Grieg wasn’t too happy about this and preferred a Frenchman to do it – he suggested Lalo – but the following year Peters published Sitt’s orchestration anyway and it was soon established as the standard version.



Almost 45 years ago I bought my first full-length Grieg LP which, besides the ubiquitous Peer Gynt suites, also contained the Norwegian Dances. The Peer Gynt music was even then a known quantity for me but these dances were a revelation and I fell in love with them at first hearing. The freshness of the melodies, the rhythmic abandon and the colourful orchestration at once singled them out. It was with some disappointment that I found out, while reading the liner notes, that a totally unknown arranger was responsible for the orchestral garb, while Grieg’s original was composed for piano four hands. I soon found out, anyway, that Sitt (1850–1922) made the orchestration during Grieg’s lifetime and thus should have been authorized by the composer, but this wasn’t the case. They are still very appealing and in due time I replaced my mono LP with Neeme Järvi’s version with the Gothenburg Symphony, which ever since has been the benchmark recording. Now Bjarte Engeset presents them with Järvi’s other long term orchestra, the RSNO. Whether this connection is of any importance I don’t know but Engeset is a great conductor in his own right – demonstrated not least in a long series of recordings for Naxos. His readings are on the same exalted level with even more rhythmic springiness. He also makes the most of the contrasts in the music, especially Grieg’s way of composing a middle section with the theme at half speed, which he does in both No. 1 and No. 3.

This technique recurs in the second of the three Slåtter (folk-fiddle dance melodies) that constitute the orchestral suite, arranged by Øistein Sommerfeldt (1919–1994). This is late Grieg. Sommerfeldt worked on these orchestrations for many years while studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, so there is definitely more than a French touch here, which I am sure Grieg would have liked. Extremely self-critical Sommerfeldt revised his orchestrations over and over again and finally decided to scrap the whole project of three suites. In 1979 he came up with a short suite and that is the one we hear on this disc in a world première recording. The folk music elements are very obvious and he also uses tambourine to intensify the rhythmic elements.



Rickard Nordraak (1842–1866) was a composer and friend of Grieg’s, who had brave plans to create national art music based on folk elements. It was a great loss when his life was cut short at the age of 24. Today he is best known as composer of the melody to the Norwegian National Anthem, Ja, vi elsker dette landet¸ which was first performed on 17 May 1864. Grieg “took refuge in music” when he learnt of the demise of his friend and wrote the Funeral March to his memory. Johan Halvorsen wrote the version for symphony orchestra aboard a ship on his way to Grieg’s funeral in Bergen in 1907 and the music was played by a pick-up orchestra at the funeral ceremony. It is built on heavy contrasts: deep sorrow and violent outbreaks of what might be regarded as anger at the loss of a dear friend. The other Halvorsen arrangement is the illustrative The Bridal Procession Passes By. This has always been a popular piece and Grieg recorded it himself twice. It has been orchestrated several times and was included in Peer Gynt at a production in Copenhagen, but Halvorsen’s arrangement was not published until the year after Grieg’s death. It is bright and colourful as are most of Halvorsen’s own compositions.

The most remarkable music on this disc is perhaps Geirr Tveitt’s orchestration of the G minor Ballade. Tveitt was also French-oriented and here he excels in creating a garment that challenges even a Ravel in inventiveness, using harp and celesta to provide softly glittering light. It could be argued that he sometimes is too generous with paint and I believe that Grieg, considering his wish for clarity and transparency, would have complained. Maybe, as Bjarte Engeset says in his highly personal and illuminative liner notes, if Grieg had lived another fifty years and developed further in a modernistic direction, he might have written something like this. As it is Tveitt has created a rich and virtuosic score on a composition that he had often played as a pianist but felt it was really an orchestral work. Tragically and ironically Tveitt believed this score to have been lost in the devastating fire at his home in 1970, when so much of his total oeuvre was destroyed, but Øistein Sommerfeldt found it in the archive of the Norwegian Society of Composers and gave it to the National Library of Norway. Some years later Tveitt’s widow mentioned to Øyvind Nordheim at the Library how sad it was that the manuscript was lost, Nordheim remembered the manuscript and closer study told him that this was Tveitt’s all right. That was in 1989 and two years later it was premièred by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, but this is the first ever recording.

The last piece, Klokkeklang (Ringing Bells) is the only music here that Grieg himself had a finger in. The piano piece, included in the fifth book of Lyric Pieces (1891) was a study in sonorities and harmonies and, as Liv Glaser pointed out in her notes to the collection of Lyric Pieces that I reviewed recently, it actually heralds Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie, which didn’t appear until almost twenty years later. This is Grieg at his boldest and most modernistic and the shimmering, almost mystical sounds are deeply fascinating. The German conductor had orchestrated some of the pieces from this book in 1895 and Grieg used these orchestrations for his Lyric Suite in 1905. He didn’t include Klokkeklang in the suite but he made far-reaching revisions of Seidl’s score so with some justification one could say that this is as close to ‘real’ Grieg as we can come on this disc. It has been recorded before, maybe more than once, but I only know a Unicorn recording with the LSO and Norwegian conductor Per Dreier.

One expects great things from the RSNO and with the inspirational Bjarte Engeset at the helm in repertoire he loves they produce playing of the highest order. Even though this is not “The Essential Edvard Grieg” he has today – and especially during this commemorative year – a position in the musical world where even the production outside the central canon is of interest. Grieg completists should jump on the opportunity to amend their collections and more generalist listeners should at least have the Norwegian Dances in a reading that in this case is exceptionally stimulating.



Althouse
American Record Guide, August 2007

All of these are piano works that have been arranged for orchestra. Only one, 'Ringing Bells' (Klokkeklang) from the Op. 54 Lyric Pieces, was done by the composer.

Two of the arrangers come from Grieg's time: Hans Sitt (1850-1922), whose Norwegian Dances arrangement from 1891 is the one most often heard; and Johan Halverson (1864-1935, a conductor and composer who actually married Grieg's niece). who arranged the Funeral March in Memory of Rikard Nordraak and the 'Bridal Procession' from Pictures from Folk Life. The others are 20th Century composers: Oistein Sommerfeldt (1919-94). who arranged the three slatter (Norwegian folk dances); and Geirr Tveitt (1908-81), who orchestrated Grieg's extensive Opus 24 Ballade. All of the orchestrations, except Tveitt's Ballade, sound pretty much like Grieg. This work, though, is probably the most enterprising on the program, and it alone goes beyond the level of a character piece.

The performances are very fine, full of joy and charm, with many moments of nostalgia. I certainly had no feeling of listening to "arranged" music, but I suppose you will have to decide if you want Grieg's piano music arranged (by others) for orchestra when the piano originals are perfectly acceptable. That said, the music is delightful.



Allmusic.com, May 2007

Not for the casual Grieg fan for whom the Piano Concerto and the Peer Gynt Suites will do, but rather for the hardest of hardcore Grieg fans for whom only everything and more will do, this disc of the Norwegian master's piano music in orchestral transcriptions with Bjarte Engeset leading Royal Scottish National Orchestra is as good as it gets for what it is. Engeset is a strong yet soulful Grieg conductor who, like every great Grieg conductor, brings out the music's bright colors, its warm lyricism, and above all its deep sentimentality. The RSNO is an agile yet powerful orchestra, which, like every great orchestra of international caliber, performs with effortless ensemble and endless virtuosity. And although to the casual Grieg fan the idea of spending time listening to Johan Halvorsen's arrangements of the Funeral March in Memory of Rikard Nordraak and The Bridal Procession Passes By might not appeal, the hardest of the hardcore will leap at the opportunity to hear those works along with the more familiar orchestration of the Norwegian Dances by Hans Sitt, the hardly familiar orchestration of Ringing Bells by Grieg and Anton Seidl, the world-premiere recordings of Oistein Sommerfeldt's orchestrations of three of the Slatter, and modernist Norwegian composer Geirr Tveitt's orchestration of the composer's longest single-movement piano piece, the Ballade. Typically for RSNO recordings, Naxos' digital sound from Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow is rich, deep, and honest.



Scott Morrison
Amazon.com, May 2007

During my adolescence in the relatively non-ironic 1950s the music of Grieg was frequently featured in both piano recitals and orchestral concerts. With rare exceptions, that popularity has faded and one reason for that, I suggest, is that Grieg's healthy, non-neurotic, humanistic music is less appealing in these jaded and skeptical times. Grieg was one of the great early nationalists and his music teems with the simple peasant qualities of exceptionally tuneful Norwegian folk melodies. That is a central quality of the music recorded here.

What makes this CD a bit unusual is that it features orchestrations of Grieg's piano music, only one of which was actually carried out by Grieg himself. The rest were made by other Norwegian composers with the exception of the orchestration of the Norwegian Dances, Op. 25, by Hans Sitt, a German. Grieg did revise an earlier orchestration of the brief 'Ringing Bells' from his Lyric Pieces done by conductor Anton Seidl. Easily the most impressive of the lot is the orchestration of the twenty-minute piano 'Ballade in G minor, Op. 24' made by the great Norwegian composer Geir Tveitt. This alone, for me, justifies the purchase of this budget issue. Tveitt was in the generation after Grieg and as a nationalist was Grieg's heir. He expands Grieg's orchestration style by including such things as celesta and harp and making striking uses of string harmonics and ponticello effects. The Ballade, written during a time of great stress in Grieg's life -- death of both parents, struggles with religious doubt, concerns that he and his wife could not have children -- is perhaps the most autobiographical of all his instrumental pieces although it has also been interpreted by some as a paean to the Norwegian homeland.

Music lovers who have never heard these orchestrations will come upon familiar piano works in a new guise. Particularly charming is the orchestration of the second of the Norwegian Dances -- Allegretto tranquillo e grazioso -- with the plangent transfer of its nonchalant melody to the oboe (and later other winds) and with pizzicato lower strings imitating the oompah of the piano bass-line.

The booklet notes, written by the CD's conductor Bjarte Engeset, are a model of their kind. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra play as to the manner born. Recorded sound is transparent and lifelike.

Recommended.



John L.
Amazon.com, April 2007

Wonderful music this is! The Slatter were originally folk dances and tunes that were transcribed by Grieg for piano. The versions heard here were later orchestrated by Oystein Sommerfeldt. This a world premiere recording of this transcription, very nicely played by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Bjarte Engeset. The familiar Norwegian Dances were vividly orchestrated by Hans Sitt. They come off wonderfully here, as do the Bridal Procession and Funeral March for R. Nordraak. But without a doubt, the highlight of this disc is the orchestral transcription of Grieg's Ballade, Op.24. This is a heartfelt emotional work, magnificently orchestrated by Geirr Tveitt: also a world premiere recording. The CD nicely concludes with Bell Ringing, from Grieg's Op.54 Lyric Pieces. This release was awarded Disc of the Month on Classics Today in March 2007. Their review, a "10/10" (their highest) concludes with these words: "...everyone loves this music (or should), and the combination of spontaneous, winning interpretations, terrific playing, great sound, and the rarity of some of the arrangements makes this offering completely irresistible." Another winner from Naxos, at a great price.



Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, April 2007

Here's a knockout collection of several piano pieces by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) arranged for orchestra by other composers. The program begins with a suite entitled Slatter orchestrated by Oistein Sommerfeldt. A world premiere recording, it’s made up of three selections from Grieg's set of seventeen piano pieces by the same name (Op. 72). They're based on Hardanger fiddle tunes from Telemark in southern Norway. The harmonies are extremely colorful and designed to mimic the sympathetic sounds produced by the underlying strings peculiar to that type of folk violin. Hans Sitt's arrangement of four Norwegian dances (Op. 35) comes next. Most everyone has heard them before, but probably not in supercharged performances like these. Funeral March in Memory of Rikard Nordraak (Op. 73), orchestrated by Johan Halvorsen, is a powerful piece Grieg wrote as a memorial to a young and promising Norwegian composer, who had just died. Dramatic major-minor shifts are indicative of the overpowering grief Grieg must have felt for someone who was also a close friend.

The world premiere recording of Ballade (Op. 24) as arranged for orchestra by Geirr Tveitt follows. Lasting almost twenty minutes, it’s a theme and variations based on a folk melody from central Norway. It’s subjected to a number of highly chromatic, extremely creative treatments made all the more colorful by Tveitt's brilliant orchestration. A very dramatic work, it could easily qualify as a symphonic poem, but you'll have to provide your own story.

The disc is filled out with two shorter pieces. The Bridal Procession Passes By is from Pictures from Folk Life (Op. 19, No. 2), and was orchestrated by Johan Halvorsen. Most everyone is familiar with the black and white piano version of this, but here it is in glorious Technicolor. Ringing Bells is from Lyric Pieces (Op. 54, No. 6), and was originally arranged by Anton Seidl. However, just before he died, Edvard revised Seidl’s version. Consequently it’s the most modern sounding Grieg you'll ever hear with lots of superimposed open fifths that point the way towards French Impressionism. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Norwegian conductor Bjarte Engeset outdo themselves on this well recorded release. This is a smorgasbord that's not to be missed, particularly at the prices found on the bill of fare for the Naxos restaurant.




David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, March 2007

Here's a knockout collection of several piano pieces by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) arranged for orchestra by other composers. The program begins with a suite entitled Slatter orchestrated by Oistein Sommerfeldt. A world premiere recording, it’s made up of three selections from Grieg's set of seventeen piano pieces by the same name (Op. 72). They're based on Hardanger fiddle tunes from Telemark in southern Norway. The harmonies are extremely colorful and designed to mimic the sympathetic sounds produced by the underlying strings peculiar to that type of folk violin. Hans Sitt's arrangement of four Norwegian dances (Op. 35) comes next. Most everyone has heard them before, but probably not in supercharged performances like these. Funeral March in Memory of Rikard Nordraak (Op. 73), orchestrated by Johan Halvorsen, is a powerful piece Grieg wrote as a memorial to a young and promising Norwegian composer, who had just died. Dramatic major-minor shifts are indicative of the overpowering grief Grieg must have felt for someone who was also a close friend.

The world premiere recording of Ballade (Op. 24) as arranged for orchestra by Geirr Tveitt follows. Lasting almost twenty minutes, it’s a theme and variations based on a folk melody from central Norway. It’s subjected to a number of highly chromatic, extremely creative treatments made all the more colorful by Tveitt's brilliant orchestration. A very dramatic work, it could easily qualify as a symphonic poem, but you'll have to provide your own story.

The disc is filled out with two shorter pieces. The Bridal Procession Passes By is from Pictures from Folk Life (Op. 19, No. 2), and was orchestrated by Johan Halvorsen. Most everyone is familiar with the black and white piano version of this, but here it is in glorious Technicolor. Ringing Bells is from Lyric Pieces (Op. 54, No. 6), and was originally arranged by Anton Seidl. However, just before he died, Edvard revised Seidl’s version. Consequently it’s the most modern sounding Grieg you'll ever hear with lots of superimposed open fifths that point the way towards French Impressionism. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Norwegian conductor Bjarte Engeset outdo themselves on this well recorded release. This is a smorgasbord that's not to be missed, particularly at the prices found on the bill of fare for the Naxos restaurant.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2007

Edvard Grieg died a hundred years ago, an event that seems to be slipping by without the commemorative discs we would have expected. So this Naxos release, which adds to their very extensive Grieg catalogue, is most welcome, particularly as I suspect the claim of world premiere recording status for the orchestral versions of Slatter and Ballade to be correct. The latter comes in an orchestration from the composer, Geirr Tveitt, and rather ends up sounding more like Tveitt than Grieg. Over the years he gathered together a comprehensive collection of Norwegian folk music, transcribing music played by a folk-fiddle for piano in the three-movement suite Slatter. It was later most effectively orchestrated by the composer, Oistein Sommerfeldt. The Funeral March in Memory of Rikard Nordraak has an unusual history in beginning life as a piano tribute to Grieg's friend; later he arranged it for wind and brass ensemble, and on his boat journey to Grieg's funeral Johan Halvorsen wrote an orchestral version played at the composer's internment. It is to my ears the most moving funeral music ever composed and deserves to be better known. Grieg often gave Halvorsen the task of orchestrating his piano scores, the best known being the Norwegian Dances, usually thought of as an original Grieg score. Halvorsen also brought instrumental colours to the very popular keyboard score for The Bridal Procession. You could hardly imagine more idiomatic performances, Bjarte Engeset, never pushing or inflating the music, but concentrating on its happy and pastoral nature. The Scottish orchestra respond with the most beautifully cultured playing, wonderful lightness and delicacy. The sound quality is up among the highest Naxos standard.






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4:53:34 PM, 21 October 2014
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