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Robert Markow
Fanfare, November 2012

The Oslo Camerata’s performance is so compelling, so full of life and spirit and energy, and so well recorded, that you may well fall in love with the piece. It is played in a string-orchestra transcription that rivets your attention throughout. Total unanimity of style, a huge dynamic range and a hyper-expressive approach to the music without ever exceeding the bounds of good taste are the hallmarks of the 19-member Camerata. Two substantial movements meant for a later Grieg quartet and Arne Nordheim’s Rendezvous, music of stark beauty and riveting intensity, complete the program. Naxos’s sparkling-clear, glowing, full-bodied sound is so immediate that it almost takes on a life of its own © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review

Elaine Fine
American Record Guide, July 2012

Alf Ardal’s string orchestra transcriptions of Edvard Grieg’s two quartets…are both effective. The melodic material of the G-minor Quartet is lovely…The transcription of the F-major Quartet is also very satisfying. All the playing is excellent. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide

Robert Markow
Fanfare, July 2012

If until now Grieg’s String Quartet hasn’t meant much to you, or if you’ve been putting off getting to know it because it’s presumably not in the class of the Beethoven or Brahms quartets, now is the time to change that. The Oslo Camerata’s performance is so compelling, so full of life and spirit and energy, and so well recorded, that you may well fall in love with the piece. It is played in a string-orchestra transcription by Alf Årdal that grabs you from the opening leap into a coup d’archet unison chord and rivets your attention until the end. The 19-member Oslo Camerata is obviously a hand-picked ensemble with not a single weak player. Numerous passages, especially in the finale (a whirling, virtuosic saltarello), would tax most soloists, but the Camerata tosses them off with the utmost precision and panache. Their leader, Stephan Barratt-Due, inspires total unanimity of style, a huge dynamic range, and a hyper-expressive approach to the music without ever exceeding the bounds of good taste. Adding a further measure of glamour to the superb playing is Naxos’s sparkling-clear, glowing, full-bodied sound that almost takes on a life of its own. In fact, the sound is so immediate and resonant it is almost like being inside an instrument. Put all these qualities together and the result is a mesmerizing performance. I have listened to this disc easily a dozen times and can’t get enough of it.

This is the kind of recording for which the admonition “Run, don’t walk to the nearest store” may be invoked. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare

Ralph Moore
MusicWeb International, June 2012

The…disc uses arrangements made by Norwegian conductor Alf Årdal. According to violinist and conductor Stephan Barratt-Due, “The depth given by adding a double bass, and the variety in using solos and tutti, gives in our opinion, the pieces a new dimension combining both the intimacy of Grieg and lifting the richness of the romantic expression in the pieces.” That gain in rich sonority must be offset against the loss of contrast. In comparison with the leaner sound of a string quartet, there is a certain inevitable homogeneity produced by a larger, beautifully co-ordinated string band. It tends to emphasise the more consolatory ideas at the expense of the stark immediacy created by the harmonic clashes of only four instruments. Romantic yearnings predominate over raw, psychological anguish. Nonetheless, this is another, valid way to experience music which comprehensively puts to bed any lingering caricature of Grieg as a chocolate-box composer. This is not perhaps amongst Grieg’s best or indeed most popular music. One senses that he was not entirely comfortable in the idiom, which might explain why he left incomplete the second quartet, begun in 1891 and still unfinished at his death, and why certain musical ideas occasionally seem to lack inspiration. On the other hand, so much is skilled and delightful that the music is self-recommending to anyone who wants to explore Grieg’s output in different guises.

Tempi are very similar to previous string quartet versions, so there is no unseemly lingering and no lack of tension.

The standard of playing…is very high throughout…everything—instrumental balance, phrasing, tempi and colouration—is judged to a nicety.

The sound quality…is exemplary; these days, especially where Naxos is concerned, it is rare for it to be otherwise. Read complete review

Barry Forshaw
Classical CD Choice, June 2012

These are sensitive expansions, designed to show off the virtues of chamber orchestras, more ready these days to accept quartet expansions into their repertoire. There are those who still set their faces against orchestration for larger ensembles of string quartet music, and it must be acknowledged that the composer’s intentions are sometimes lost in such transcriptions. But there are considerable gains to be found in the more sensitive and alert expansions such as those to be found on this delightful disc, which is distinguished by playing of charm and authority. © 2012 Classical CD Choice

Paul Corfield Godfrey
MusicWeb International, April 2012

Naxos already have a very good recording of the Grieg quartets in original form in their catalogue, and have now turned their attention to these arrangements by Alf Årdel who himself contributes a note in the insert booklet explaining what he has done to the scores. He has done a very good job, only amplifying Grieg’s original textures by the addition of a double bass line where appropriate and adapting the writing for orchestral players where necessary.

The players of the Oslo Camerata do a very good job, too. Their admirably precise playing sparkles with electricity, and they bring a delightful warmth to the music. Grieg himself scored a number of his piano pieces for string orchestra, including the Holberg Suite, and the first movement of the completed quartet he published during his lifetime has the same sort of quick energy that is to be found in that arrangement. Just before the end of the movement (at around 11.24) the writing for string orchestra sounds like a similarly haunting passage in Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro where in the original quartet version it sounds rather less sure of its bearings. The playing in the intermezzo is superb, and the greater breadth of a string orchestra brings a marvellous earthiness to the scherzo-like halling rhythms. The thick chordal writing in the finale benefits enormously from the additional weight that an orchestra can bring to the music.

There is nothing at all objectionable or unpleasant about this [Nordheim’s] music, but nothing very memorable either; it falls into the category of so many worthy well-constructed academic pieces written during that era. Even the slow and long-drawn final Nachruf does not raise the emotional temperature despite some delicacy of idiom. The quartet, originally written in 1956, was re-scored for string orchestra in 1986; but by that time the idiom of the writing was long past its sell-by date. Nordheim appears to have done little or nothing to alter it during the process of revision. In short, the music is grey and colourless even in its livelier passages, unlike its “conservative” companions on this disc. Even the sincerely felt and technically assured playing of the string orchestra cannot bring it to life.

All that said, the two Grieg quartets work well in this format, and well repay investigation both by Grieg enthusiasts and those who have an allergy to the medium of the string quartet. The Lommedalen Church is spacious and nicely resonant, and the recorded sound is very rich and detailed. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, March 2012

The first of the quartet’s four movements begins with an expressive andante motif (EA) not too far removed from the opening of Edvard’s piano concerto (1868). It’s immediately transformed into an impetuous allegro theme (IA) [track-1, beginning at 00:40], which foreshadows the impassioned mood of this movement. A lovely melancholy melody (LM) [track-1, beginning at 02:00] reminiscent of his more wistful string pieces follows, after which IA and LM undergo an extended dramatic development, ending in an energetic coda based on EA.

Another killer Grieg ditty is the subject for a series of fetching variations in the next romanze, while the subsequent intermezzo begins with a forceful confident motif (CF) distantly related to EA. It’s the main idea for the latter movement’s beginning and ending, which surround a scherzo-like central section [track-3, beginning at 02:30] with a theme that would later appear in the third of his Norwegian Dances for orchestra (1887).

The dramatically tense opening of the finale recalls EA, and is soon followed by a couple of lively folkish foot-tapping tunes. These recur throughout the movement in a variety of developmental guises, with the movement ending in a poignant coda [track-4, beginning at 07:51] built around EA.

In 1891 Grieg started the second of his surviving quartets, but would only finish the first two movements. Like his preceding effort there’s a robustness and density about the original that makes it ideally suited to Ardal’s expanded version that’s next. This is evident right from the introductory flippant sostenuto chordal riff (FS) that will recur as a unifying motif throughout the movement. It’s summarily followed by a sonata form allegro with memorable themes immediately identifiable as Grieg, and ends with an FS-related “So there!”

The concluding movement is an A-B-A allegro-scherzando, whose outer sections revolve around a squeaky mouselike theme with a cynicism that may reflect the difficulties Grieg was going through at this stage of his life. On the other hand, the central part [track-6, beginning at 02:36] is a spirited dance that could almost be a Highland Fling, which one could rationalize as in keeping with the composer’s paternal Scottish ancestry.

A CD with music from a country whose northernmost regions lie in the “Land of the Midnight Sun” wouldn’t be complete without a little Nordic gloom. Accordingly this release is filled out with Nordheim’s dour Rendezvous for string orchestra, which is a 1986 reworking of an untitled string quartet he wrote in 1956.

In three movements, the first called “Praeambulum” is a morose fantasia with wrenching rhythmic accents. It seems to take its cue from Bartok’s (1881-1945) Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) as well as his Concerto for orchestra (1942-45), or even the more anguished movements in Shostakovich’s (1906-1975) War Symphonies (Nos. 4-9, 1935-45).

The next “Intermezzo” is a high-strung scherzoesque offering that puts the listener’s nerves on edge. While the concluding “Nachruf” (“Obituary”) is just that, ending Nordheim’s Stygian stringed ruminations in abject darkness. You’ll have the urge to either hoist a few or blow your brains out after playing this!

The nineteen-member Oslo Camerata under their lead violinist Stephan Barratt-Due generate a ravishing string sound, playing these selections with breathtaking enthusiasm and precision. As far as the Grieg is concerned, having listened to these expanded versions chances are you’ll reach for them instead of the originals the next time you want to hear his quartets.

Made in an Oslo church the recordings are very good, projecting a modestly wide but deep soundstage in a warm reverberant acoustic. This makes the string sound all the richer, and adds a musicality which puts this disc in the demonstration category. © 2012 Classical Lost and Found Read complete review, March 2012

The sonic pleasures are of a different kind in the Oslo Camerata’s recording of music by Grieg and Arne Nordheim (1931-2010). Grieg’s complete and well-known G minor quartet and his unfinished one in F major are heard here in finely crafted arrangements by Alf Årdal, which are imaginative and elegant… Stephan Barratt-Due conducts with sensitivity, and the orchestra is small enough so there is good balance and a sound that is not too thick; as a result, the quartets in this form are certainly pleasant to hear. Nordheim’s Rendezvous…offers a chance to hear some lovely playing of music that is either little-known or known in a different form. © 2012 Read complete review

Film Music: The Neglected Art, March 2012

…the G minor quartet is filled with melodic content which the listener can easily be comfortable with. The intermezzo is a delightful outgoing happy melody which changes to a melody that could have come right out of “Peer Gynt” before it changes back to the original melody and style. The finale, a lento, offers yet another wonderful dance filled with wonderful harmony. The string ensemble certainly adds texture and color and the result is a work that flows nicely. I like the complex structure of the work and consider it a favorite in chamber music. The joy of listening to Grieg is that each movement is filled with melodies that linger with you long after you’re finished listening…

The Oslo Camerata is a superb ensemble and only enhances these works. © 2012 Film Music: The Neglected Art Read complete review

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review, March 2012

[Edvard Grieg's] String Quartets…are filled with a lyric light…in the sense of his treatment of themes in the somewhat more formalist context of a string quartet.

…Ardal’s arrangements successfully give us what seems like new Grieg. He has transformed the works so fully into the orchestral context that they seem like wholly new works…The Oslo Camerata sounds quite lively and spirited, and the sound is quite decent…

…the Arne Nordheim (1931-2010) composition gives you another 20 minutes of interesting Northern string orchestra music…

Any lover of Grieg will find this disk a wonderful experience. Those who enjoy and appreciate the Scandanavian, Norwegian musical corpus in general will go for this as well. It’s good music, too. Anybody should find it appealing. © 2012 Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review Read complete review

David Hurwitz, February 2012

Edvard Grieg’s G minor string quartet…has not achieved the popularity that it surely deserves. Here, as a veritable “symphony for strings”, especially in this gutsy, ferocious performance, it makes an unforgettable impression.

Arne Nordheim’s Rendezvous…manages to be at once contemporary, passionate, and quite moving. As with the Grieg, the performances are splendid: bold, confident, ideally balanced, and quite wonderfully recorded. © 2012 Read complete review

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2012

At the age of thirty-five Edvard Grieg completed his only String Quartet, his publisher at the time complaining of the thickness of its texture. That comment gives Alf Ardal a starting point for creating a string orchestra version of the work, adding a double bass to the original string structure, and by so doing creating a more sonorous quality. The very opening with its spread chords set the scene, the arrangement of this first movement adding much to the feel of the turbulence in the original score. More magnified is the work’s affinity to the world of Peer Gynt, Ardal often thinning the texture to a weight more akin with the quartet, this juxtaposition moving the dynamic plane of the movement to much wider extremes. His arrangement also intensifies the beauty of the second movement, and if I had the feeling that the following two movements hadn’t quite galvanized his creativity to the same extent, I hope Grieg would have approved, as thus far I have greatly enjoyed the disc. Grieg did begin another quartet thirteen years later but got no further than two movements, Ardal doing his best with less than inspired music, rounding off his venture with rusticity in the second Allegro scherzando movement. We now jump forward fifty-six years for Arne Nordheim’s String Quartet later orchestrated for strings to form Rendezvous. A purely tonal work of immediate accessibility, its strong and purposeful opening movement is followed by a shorter and highly imaginative Intermezzo and the dark sounds of Nachruf. Throughout the playing of the Oslo Camerata with their concertmaster, Stephen Barratt-Due, is outstanding. Now we have to get Naxos to record them in the orchestrated Shostakovich quartets. © 2012 David’s Review Corner

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