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Stephen Francis Vasta
MusicWeb International, September 2009

Under Engeset’s direction, the Malmö Symphony plays handsomely and sensitively. String lines are vibrant and expressively shaped; woodwind soloists are by turns suave and piquant; and the brasses make impressive sounds…Inger Dam-Jensen is a lyric soprano with a rich, warm midrange…In Det første møde—described by Engeset as a “nature-idyll”—Dam-Jensen’s upper range floats and occasionally soars…Den Bergtekne is the longest of Grieg’s orchestral songs, according to the conductor; it’s certainly laid out on a symphonic scale, with two horns injecting an ominous note into the sombre string orchestra…The First [Peer Gynt] Suite, in this instance, justifies its inclusion. The precisely attacked opening chord of Morning Mood is breathtaking—especially against the CD’s utterly silent background—bespeaking the conductor’s unwillingness to take anything for granted, though not all the chords rise to that level; the woodwind trills in the closing pages are alert. Åse’s Death flows in a single broad arc, conveying sadness and resignation rather than the tragic weight of bigger-boned performances such as Barbirolli’s (EMI). The lilt and grace of Anitra’s Dance is properly seductive; whether by chance or by design, Engeset underlines the occasional three-bar pizzicato groupings beneath the four-bar melodic phrases. In the Hall of the Mountain King begins crisply, with the pungent tones of bassoon and contrabassoon more strongly felt than usual; the effective buildup eschews the splashy, frenetic energy favored by some.

The Second Suite sounds musical but generic, lacking a similar sense of detailed attention: the Arabian Dance, for example, misses the distinction of Anitra’s Dance. Peer Gynt’s Homecoming becomes quite exciting as the turbulence increases; the brasses play their interjections with sharp rhythmic address, and they register with impressive depth in Naxos’s engineering. Engeset uses the dynamics to shape the transitional woodwind chorale with purpose. The orchestra-only version of Solvejg’s Song is pretty but ordinary—even the finest violin sections don’t always capture, or perhaps understand, the feeling of “vocal” phrasing—but the refrains, which can sound like a throwaway, have a dancey lilt, and the airy woodwind chord that ends each refrain subtly opens the texture.

As indicated, the sound is excellent, and Engeset’s note makes a strong case for the greatness of the Peer Gynt music, if you’re one of the doubters.



Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, September 2008

Enjoy some of the most attractive and melodic music to be heard here in Peer Gynt. …Audio quality again is very good, actually outstandingly so, significantly aiding enjoyment of this superb release… Definitely my highest recommendation for enjoyable music, beautifully performed and very well recorded. If you want to hear more of this talented composer, simply try his piano concerto.



David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, November 2007

Naxos' ongoing series of Grieg orchestral music has been offering performances basically as fine as any in the catalog. These performances of the two canonical Peer Gynt Suites are gorgeous, perfectly paced, and thrillingly recorded. I particularly enjoyed Engeset's ability to keep the melody clearly audible at the big climax of In the Hall of the Mountain King, without any loss of frenzy. Peer Gynt's Homecoming benefits from the recording's wide dynamic range, while the gentler numbers such as Ase's Death and Solveig's Song are as heartfelt as anyone could ask.

The remainder of the program consists of Grieg's songs with orchestra, including the vocal versions of Solveig's two numbers from Peer Gynt. Soprano Inger Dam-Jensen sings beautifully, with a warm tone and excellent diction. This is repertoire that she handles effortlessly. Baritone Palle Knudson has a touch of unsteadiness to his voice that sometimes becomes distracting, particularly as he has the longest vocal number here (The Mountain Thrall). Still, there's no questioning his command of the language or his ability to inflect a phrase, and with such fine accompaniments this program overall earns a firm recommendation.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2007

It is the performance of the Six Orchestral Songs that features the young Danish-born soprano, Inger Dam-Jensen, that brings a special distinction to this highly desirable disc. Possessing an open quality still fresh with the feel of youth and innocence, she warms the voice with a gentle vibrato, her intonation and feel for vocal colour displaying a musicianship of deep sensibility. Indeed you could never wish to hear a voice more ideally suited to this music. I suppose that if she had sung the last song, Henrik Wergeland, we would have complained that the words are for a male voice, yet maybe in hindsight it was a mistake not to give it to her. Vocally the voice of the young Norwegian baritone, Palle Knudsen, does not complement Dam-Jensen to the extent that it seems an odd conclusion. He is heard to much better account in Den Bergtekne (The Mountain Thrall) where he brings into play the 'heroic' vocal quality I love in male singers from that region. To add another Peer Gynt to a catalogue already awash with recordings may seem excessive, but as part of Naxos's complete orchestral works of Greig it comes as a necessity. There are certainly more overtly dramatic readings on disc, but we should never lose sight of the fact it is incidental music originally intended for small orchestra. I really like the unsentimental way Bjarte Engeset propels The Death of Ase and the avoidance of a super-heated ending to In the Hall of the Mountain King is most welcome. Where he scores heavily is in the balance of the Malmo strings where he slants it to an uncommonly fulsome lower end adding a new slant to the music. The playing is exemplary, with lovely woodwind and unforced brass, a nice realistic orchestral quality admirably captured by the recording.






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10:23:55 PM, 24 November 2014
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