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American Record Guide, December 2006

The Oslo Camerata is a small group of just 19 players. Jarvi employs a much larger ensemble, presumably the entire string complement of the Estonian Philharmonic. Thus the strings produce a richer and creamier sound on Virgin. Naxos mikes the Oslo Camerata very closely, and you can almost feel the spray of the resin as the players dig in to the music with unabashed enthusiasm. Virgin places its microphones farther back in the hall, resulting in a warmer, more resonant sound that perfectly complements Jarvi's symphonic conception of the score. Barratt-Due's tempos are considerably faster than Jarvi's, especially in II and V. The rhythms are crisp and invariably animated by the spirit of the dance. Jarvi rounds his phrases more gently, and the music flows serenely. In place of Barratt-Due's irrepressible energy, Jarvi stresses the vocal quality of Grieg's writing. The Estonian strings rise to the occasion, often sounding like an ideal, ethereal choir. But Jarvi's low-key. I would benefit from a dose of Barratt-Due's vigor, whereas Barratt-Due's breakneck finale needs some of Jarvi's breadth and genial warmth. Barratt-Due also rushes through the two Elegiac Melodies, slighting the emotions. The Oslo Camerata fills out its program with a delightful collection of little-known arrangements for string ensemble of several Grieg songs and piano pieces. There are no neglected masterpieces here. Indeed, I was reminded strongly of Debussy's comment that Grieg's miniatures were nothing more than "bonbons filled with snow". Titles such as 'Cow Call' and 'Peasant Dance' give you some idea of what to expect. Perhaps the most familiar is 'At the Cradle'-No. 2 from the Opus 68 collection of Lyric Pieces, originally for piano. Grieg's transcription is quite lovely and touching. The program concludes with touching performance of 'Ase's Death' from Peer Gynt. The Naxos disc is short- just under 52 minutes. Surely other similar material could have been found to make a full-length program. Petri Sakari, for example, recorded a remarkable transcription for strings and harp of 'Erotik' from the Opus 43 Lyric Pieces on Chandos. Still, this new recording is worth having, particularly in light of the low cost, vivid sound, and excellent playing.

Classic FM, August 2006

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Gwyn Parry-Jones
MusicWeb International, July 2006

Edvard Grieg wrote a great deal of music for string orchestra. In it he showed an almost unsurpassed ability to draw the very best from the medium. This is a little surprising, in that Grieg was a pianist and, as far as I can determine, never learned to play a string instrument. Yet the violin is of course a central instrument in Norwegian folk-music, and he also had the life-changing experience at a young age of meeting the great violinist Ole Bull and hearing him play. Whatever the reasons, the musical outcome as represented here is rich and varied, and this highly enjoyable CD contains his most extended work for the medium. This is The Holberg Suite – to give it its full title From Holberg’s Time: Suite in the Olden Style – named after an important Norwegian writer of the 18th century. Following on from that, we have a number of shorter character pieces, finishing with the famous Death of Åse from the first Peer Gynt Suite. Grieg has a long-established reputation as the most charming of the late Romantic ‘Nationalists’. But what always strikes me is how very important he was for younger composers of the day. His influence on Grainger and Delius is well documented; more surprising was the strong whiff of Tippett that I detected in the Air (track 4) of the Holberg Suite (thinking of the Corelli Fantasia); and even more so theclear hint of Schönberg’s Verklärte nacht in the expressive chromatic harmonies of track 6, Våren (given here as ‘Last Spring’). I’m used to hearing it called ‘The Last Spring’, which means, of course, something quite different. Any ideas on which is correct?. Barratt-Due and the Oslo Camerata give performances here that are both highly committed and highly polished. Intonation, ensemble and string tone are all very fine, and the recording is of Naxos’s best quality. Occasionally, it seems as if these players try a bit too hard; this is noticeable in much of the slower music, including the already-mentioned Våren. Here I feel that something of the magical inner quality of the music is compromised by a welter of highly explicit, and possibly exaggerated expressive detail. The same quality is felt in Åses dod, tr. 14; the music needs more sweep and a little less fussy emphasis. But this slight reservation in no way seriously detracts from the many delights found here. Some of the perhaps less familiar pieces are really exquisite; listen to the poignancy of the major/minor shifts in track 8, Det første Møde (The First Meeting), recalling Solveig’s Song from Peer Gynt. Or the straightforwardly bucolic Kulokk (unpromisingly translated as ‘Cow Call’!), track 12, with its mysterious little introduction. Track 9, Bådnlåt (At the Cradle) is a little gem, contrasting solo strings with the full body, while Stabbelåten (Peasant Dance) is immensely bracing, and includes its own built-in tuning-up for good measure! The disc is on the short side – just under 52 minutes – but this is largely because of the selection, which is inherently limited in quantity - though I can think of two or three other pieces I would have liked to have found here. This is a veritable smorgasbord of simply scrumptious music!

Rick Jones
July 2006

Light bowing and lyrical phrasing make beautiful strings-only disc. The Holberg Suite really floats and the elegiac melodies linger for days.

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