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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Bjarte Engeset makes an excellent case for the Grieg Symphony—not one of his most characteristic works, but it has many pleasing qualities. Engeset injects plenty of vigour into his performance, making it seem more dramatic than usual. The Variations are superbly done, with plenty of the fresh charm and detail brought out. No complaints about the Sigurd Jorsalfar items, which are as enjoyable as ever, with the Intermezzo wonderfully atmospheric. Good, well-balanced sound.

David Hurwitz, December 2007

Here is more fine Grieg from Bjarte Engeset and Naxos. The symphony isn't terribly interesting or important, but this is a very charming performance featuring lively tempos and some sweetly beguiling wind playing from the Malmö Symphony Orchestra. Engeset expertly paces the Old Norwegian Romance with Variations, finding both coherence and contrast in a work that can very easily break up into little bits. He also digs into Sigurd Jorsalfar with plenty of gusto, and the final Hommage March is as vibrant as anyone could ask. Naxos captures it all in warm, natural sound. So if the coupling fits neatly into your collection, you can purchase this release without hesitation.

Kenneth Page
Limelight, November 2007

The sound here is rich in quality, carrying a persistent, subtle and not entirely unattractive gloominess. Not by accident, you suspect. The sparkle you expect of Grieg si there, but with a kind of burnish to dull its sharpness. As a music lover, you don’t expect instant gratification, and if you’re prepared to reserve judgment, then take the time and make up your own mind. This is a classy performance.

George Chien
Fanfare, November 2007

Engeset’s new disc offers a worthy alternative for the Symphony and reasonable backups for the other works. Naxos’s recording is true, and Engeset’s notes are exceptionally helpful. Most enjoyable. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

Mike Ashman
Gramophone, October 2007

Melody and form carry the day in the symphony the composer tried to ban

Grieg completed his youthful Symphony in a hurry in 1863/64, but declaring that “it belongs to a bygone Schumann­period in my life and never satisfied me,” he marked his manuscript “must never be performed”. Most scholars have agreed but since 1980, when Vitaly Katayev performed and recorded the work, audiences and record companies have been happy to see Grieg's ban reversed.

A "blind tasting" session would identify the twin influences of Schumann's potent, short-breathed chorale-like themes and Mendelssohn's arching, romantic melodies in a classical structure. Parallels to the folksy elements of early Dvořák and Tchaikovsky (and even of Bruckner) might furnish a guess at the date of composition. Engeset relishes every stylistic discrepancy, every moment where a promising development peters out, or another potentially winning tune or sequence is impetuously squandered. Young Grieg may win nul points for form but the sheer range of melodic material and formal tactics attempted wins the day.

The couplings, reminders of a more mature Grieg's orchestral skills, are still, for most of the world outside Scandinavia, near-rarities. The playwright Bjornson always seemed to bring out the latent Wagnerian in Grieg, and so it is here in the emotional ups and downs of Sigurd the Crusader. The Variations – which Engeset terms the "uncomplicated sister" of Grieg's Op 24 piano Ballade – gets a passionately concerned performance which stresses the unity and drama of the work. The recordings deliver the Malmo orchestra's work clearly and the disc is a convenient and inexpensive introduction to orchestral Grieg and the great charms of his prentice work.

Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, September 2007

Disconcertingly, Grieg wrote of his own ‘forbidden’ C minor Symphony - composed when he was just 20/21 - that it ‘must never be performed’. As conductor, Bjarte Engeset, remarks in his fulsome and admirable notes: “… during its 113-year enchanted sleep (commentators) wrote about it disparagingly: it was ‘clumsy’, ‘stiff’, ‘barely out of school’ and not Norwegian enough”. Granted that there are clear associations with the styles of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann and the Danish composer Niels Gade, but it is to Engeset’s credit that he and his orchestra and production team recognized the youthful ebullience, out-of-doors freshness and lyrical qualities of the work enough to proceed to record it again. There have been other recordings including those by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra with Ari Rasilainen (Apex), Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra with Okko Kamo (Bis), Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra/Terje Mikkelsen (Simax), Neeme Järvi DG box, and the very first recording now on Decca Eloquence with Karsten Andersen and the Bergen Symphony Orchestra. That pioneering recording was issued in splendidly expensive isolation on a full price CD circa 1984.

The opening movement is a procession of attractive melodies: stirring marches, heroic material and romantic themes. The lyrical, tender Adagio espressivo second movement and especially the more rustic Intermezzo are quite Schumann-like with a dash of Mendelssohn - influences too apparent, or so it seems, in Grieg’s estimation. Virtuosically fast tempos inform the finale which crackles with joie de vivre. The Malmö players rise magnificently to the work’s challenges, sensitively recognizing the Symphony’s subtle harmonic shifts and nuances of colour.

Grieg’s Old Norwegian Romance with Variations is built on the heroic ballad melody, ‘Sjugur and the Troll-Bride’, stated after a short rather belying dark introduction. Grieg wanted to show how great a potential there was in such a folk-tune. Certainly, through its 18 variations, Grieg skilfully assembles music in an impressive range of moods and styles: marches, minuets, waltzes, dramatic and playful interludes, lyrical and pastoral, tempestuous, tranquil and pompous, all engagingly melodic.

With the Three Orchestral Pieces from ‘Sigurd Jorsalfar’ we reach more familiar ground. The play revolves around two brothers: Sigurd with his calling to the crusades and the gentle home-loving Eystejn. ‘Borghild’s Dream’ begins calmly but grows agitated as her sleep becomes increasingly troubled, the music building a powerful sense of dread. The Malmö players perform, with nice intensity, the much-performed ‘Homage March’ which has a ceremonial and regal-heroic quality.

Grieg’s ‘forbidden’ Symphony in C minor might be derivative, nevertheless it is a real find.

An altogether delightful programme with all the freshness of a Norwegian spring.

Giv Cornfield, Ph.D.
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, July 2007

Although Grieg expressly forbade the performance of this, his only symphony, it is a nicely-wrought and accessible work. It brings to mind the immensely popular Symphony in C Major that Bizet submitted as his entry for the Prix de Rome. Conductor Engeset provides exhaustive notes about the background for Grieg's supression of the work. A full page in the notes is devoted to the lovely painting on the cover. Performances of this and the two other works are lively and 'native' in spirit.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2007

On the title page of the C minor symphony Edvard Grieg wrote the word 'Forbidden' his express wish being that the work should never be published or performed. Fortunately in 1980 a Russian conductor, Vitaly Katayev, obtained a photocopy of the manuscript and both performed in concert and recorded the work. Though it was to overturn the composer's instruction, there was then a rush to have an authentic Norwegian performance, Bergen going the whole way by organizing a television relay of the work throughout Europe. It has since been heard many times in the concert hall and made Grieg's reservations difficult to understand. It was, however, from his twentieth year, and in the years that followed he probably felt it would not further his cause as a national composer. It certainly does meet his own description as being much indebted to Schumann, though it was an assured score, melodically strong its only drawback being the lack of a finale with the same level of inspiration that filled the opening Allegro. Even with his reservations, he did feel happy enough to allow the two central movements to be published in a piano duo format. For one so young it was a well-balanced and thought-through score, all four movements having the melodic content that many familiar symphonies lack. If Grieg had heard Bjarte Engeset's powerful reading, splendidly performed by the Malmo orchestra, he would surely have had second thoughts. The playing is sharp edged in the brass, silky smooth in the woodwind and potent in the strings, the whole performance in a different class to the other available recordings. Forty-three years later in 1906, the orchestrated version of the Variations on an Old Norwegian Romance appeared. It is a lightweight score rather in the mood of Peer Gynt, and initially conductors were expressing doubt that the long list of variations were viable in their many mood changes. Here Engeset treats it as a genial score, the orchestra responding with a very light touch, each variation allowed to stand on its own. The disc ends with the three well-known excerpts from the incidental music to the play, Sigurd Jorsalfar, the final Homage March at one time featuring among Grieg's best known pieces. I cannot praise the playing enough, as it is some of the finest Grieg I have heard, while the recording is everything you could wish for.

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