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Ralph Moore
MusicWeb International, June 2012

…Volume 6 in the acclaimed Naxos “Grieg Edition”: a compilation of Grieg’s finest music for strings, reflecting his love of mountains, folk music, folk tales and all things Norwegian. Although Grieg’s voice is always his own, international influences resulting from his travels to Leipzig, Copenhagen and Rome and his exposure to Wagner’s orchestration are clearly apparent. Debussy’s oft-quoted aphorism that when listening to the Lyric Pieces “one has in one’s mouth that bizarre yet delightful taste of pink bon-bons filled with snow” applies far more to this collection in general than to the arrangements of the string quartets. It is often assumed that Debussy’s observation carried more than a hint of a sneer about it yet a more generous interpretation could embrace the idea that it conveys the cool, bracing streak in Grieg’s music which offsets sentimentality. Certainly there is often a darkness or a melancholy about it which pulls at the heart-strings. The two concluding movements of the Holberg Suite are typical of the profound, elegiac quality Grieg can evoke through the simplest of means such as the dialogue between the upper and lower strings in the Air or the duet between solo violin and solo viola in the Rigaudon, both exploiting the pathos of G minor. The words “lyric” and “elegy” are by no means antithetical in Grieg. The profound loneliness of a distant, keening oboe which begins Evening in the Mountains has something of the quality of the shepherd’s cor anglais in the opening of Tristan und Isolde. Grieg wrote in a letter to his biographer that the “essential feature of Norwegian folksongs … is a deep melancholy … mysterious darkness and unbridled wildness”, qualities typified in the impassioned performance here of In Folk Style, the first of the Two Nordic Melodies. Yet when Grieg is in pure pastoral mode, such as in the simple, beguiling melody of Cow-Call, nothing could be more charming and insouciant.

The standard of playing…is very high throughout. I prefer a little more pace and attack in the Prelude of the Holberg Suite but by and large everything—instrumental balance, phrasing, tempi and colouration—is judged to a nicety.

The sound exemplary; these days, especially where Naxos is concerned, it is rare for it to be otherwise. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Stephen Francis Vasta
MusicWeb International, April 2012

The Holberg Suite, the major work on the program, comes off well, in a performance that plays to the Malmö ensemble’s strengths. The opening Prelude benefits from a forthright attack and drive. The gentle treatment of the Sarabande doesn’t sacrifice rhythmic backbone; the cello solo at 1:11 aches with yearning, while the following duet evokes a lovely nostalgia. Here, as in the buoyant Gavotte that follows, Engeset infuses the second subject with greater impulse. The dignified, steady tread of the Air builds into a tonally saturated climax; the closing Rigaudon is crisp and lively.

The “standard” Op. 54 Lyric Suite…Engeset offers distinctive readings, with a bracing horn in the Gangar; graceful, easy attacks in the Notturno; and a March of the Dwarfs that’s rousing but never driven.

The other short pieces are nicely turned, as well. In The Wounded Heart, the first of the Two Elegiac Melodies, the bold attack on the tutti recap gradually settles into a peaceful final cadence. The introductory phrase of The Last Spring could be a bit more restrained, but the players soon settle into a more comfortable level, for a touching performance. The Two Nordic Melodies both open into full-throated tuttis, though the first, In Folk Style, has its wistful, delicate moments along the way. The “Peasant Dance” portion of the second movement doesn’t sound very dance-like, but its energy is winning.

…Malmö Symphony…has plenty of concentrated power and intensity—the initial phrase of In Folk Style is played with full, surging tone—yet accents are warm and cushioned rather than aggressive. The cleanly etched textures, avoiding the mushiness or blunted edges of some string-orchestra performances, are pleasing; high violin passages are ethereal and transparent. The players’ conscientiousness about tuning and blend, however, can lead to undue caution: here and there, a quiet or lyrical phrase is carefully or tentatively negotiated rather than calmly intoned.

The recorded sound comes up with splendid depth… © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

George Chien
Fanfare, March 2012

Grieg’s…orchestrations were skillful and imaginative. Grieg’s nationalism is on display throughout the program…This disc…is as satisfying as it is entertaining…Try it. You’ll like it. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare

Brian Reinhart
MusicWeb International, February 2012

Engeset has the Malmö Symphony strings at their full, rich best, creating a deep sound which enjoys great clarity…

The more trifling tunes are really charmingly done here, especially the Two Nordic Melodies, which are actually three (!) and utterly wonderful. As a bonus we get the Lyric Suite, arrangements of four of the Lyric Pieces for piano, with a rhythmically addictive Gangar and a totally delightful March of the Dwarves. As through the whole program, the Malmö Symphony combines a warm, full palette of colors with rhythmic precision.

…Engeset’s latest CD hits the spot. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Charlotte Gardner
Classic FM, February 2012

It’s difficult to avoid a whole disc of Grieg’s music for strings becoming an overdose of Nordic niceness.  However, Engeset and the Malmö SO have done so to an impressive extent. Considering too the budget Naxos price, this is purchase-worthy. © 2012 Classic FM

Anthony Tommasini
The New York Times, January 2012

A new addition to a generous series of Grieg recordings on the Naxos label offers his music for strings, beautifully played by the Malmo Symphony Orchestra of Sweden under the conductor Bjarte Engeset. Writing for just this segment empowered Grieg, and these works are masterly.

Grieg often mined folk tunes for melodic ideas, and many of the pieces here are arrangements of his songs and piano pieces. “Two Elegiac Melodies,” originally songs, shimmer and glow in their string versions. In the second one, “The Last Spring,” every twist in the beguiling melody, at once poignant and consoling, is cushioned with Grieg’s plaintive chromatic harmonies. © 2012 The New York Times Read complete review

Donald R Vroon
American Record Guide, January 2012

here is the Malmo orchestra under a Norwegian conductor…This is every bit as good as the Jarvi for maybe half the price…The playing is warm and romantic, the phrasing superb. And I slightly prefer the sound on Naxos; it’s warmer and richer.

All of this is delicious music… © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online

David Hurwitz, December 2011

The excellence of Bjarte Engeset’s Grieg recordings speaks for itself. As with previous releases in this series, the performances are outstanding. Much of this music is slow and nostalgic, and Engeset paces it perfectly.

Engeset lets the music’s romantic pedigree shine through. The sonics are terrific too. © 2011 Read complete review, December 2011

Add still more strings, and a series of warm and beautifully paced interpretations, and you have the (++++) CD of music for string orchestra by Edvard Grieg—the sixth volume in Naxos’ Grieg Edition. These are…wonderfully made miniatures, with strong ties to Norwegian folk melodies and a very pleasant lyricism…the Malmö Symphony Orchestra under Bjarte Engeset plays everything with idiomatic understanding and a fine sense of style and pacing….this foray into Grieg’s string-orchestra music shows just how enjoyable an all-string ensemble can sound… © Read complete review

Mike D. Brownell, December 2011

Grieg’s ideal sound for these works was not of a small, intimate chamber ensemble, but a full, rich, symphonic string sound. The Malmö Symphony Orchestra under conductor Bjarte Engeset produces just such a sound: vibrant, shimmering violins; assertive, powerful violas; and articulate, resonating cellos and basses. Engeset’s own heritage allows him to accentuate the Nationalistic sentiments and scenic vistas Grieg incorporates into his scores. The lyrical, singing qualities of those pieces transcribed from songs are maintained with beautifully crafted, well-connected lines. The Baroque stylings of the Holberg Suite are executed with crisp, clean articulation and a nice contrast from the deeper, more Romantic works on the rest of the album. The disc closes with an equally lush and rousing performance of the Op. 54 Lyric Suite, the only work on the program not for strings alone. © 2011 Read complete review

Terry Robbins
The WholeNote, December 2011

All of the performances here are warm and suitably idiomatic, with the sound quality up to the usual Naxos high standard. © The WholeNote Read complete review

Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, November 2011

It’s the Holberg Suite that most people will want—just the kind of faux-antiquery that I go for. Here again I liked the slightly faster tempi overall on the Naxos recording. The opening Prelude goes with a real swing without ever sounding rushed.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2011

This is the most beautiful played recording of Grieg’s music for string orchestra that I have yet encountered. Oft performed on disc by chamber groups, here we have the Malmö Symphony, their strings so elegant, transparent and rhythmically exact that they can move readily from the limpid quality of the Two Elegiac Melodies to the vivacity of the Holberg Suite with such impeccable good taste. Those works with a sad quality, such as The Last Spring, are played without undue sentimentality, while Engeset does not fall into the trap of turning the Holberg Suite into a Baroque pastiche. When we move to the Two Nordic Melodies, Engeset captures the rustic joy of its folk-inspired material, and then, using the full orchestra, provides a stunning account of the Lyric Suite, the colours sharply etched, the final March of the Dwarfs ending with a swagger that just keeps this side of good taste. The playing throughout is exemplary, and when Engeset asks for some very nimble response, he has the players to carry it off with such technical perfection. Together with impeccable sound engineering, I will have to resort to the old cliche, ‘however many recordings you may have, you simply have to buy this one’.

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