It's not hard to see why this recording has garnered so much critical attention. Besides the ardent and highly disciplined playing of Truls Mork and his accomplices--notably the excellent pianist Havard Gimse, a Grieg specialist--there is the music: Grieg's chamber works are rarely given their due, but here are two of his finest in performances that are bound to make believers out of all but the most skeptical listeners. Perhaps the cello sonata is the better piece (the notes to this CD seem to indicate such), but I'm more impressed with Grieg's lone string quartet, whose quasi-symphonic sound and slightly off-kilter saltarello last movement (Bergamo by way of Bergen!) make for memorable listening. Add to this a scherzo as finely wrought as just about any by Dvorak and an overheated first movement that gives the lie to those who feel Grieg's emotional range is limited, and you have a work that demands to be heard again. And again, if only to see whether or not the very interesting parts add up to a credible whole. I'm still trying to figure this out myself, but the String Quartet is nonetheless a fascinating composition.
Even if I feel the Cello Sonata is less adventurous, more typical of Grieg in his folky vein--especially the bounding last movement--clearly it is a work of stature as well. And it probably hangs together better. The first movement has much of the grand drama of the comparable movement of the string quartet, while the slow movement, based on Grieg's own march from Sigurd Josalfar, is Grieg at his most introspective, rising to a fever pitch in the minor-key central episode.
Besides the fervent playing of Mork and the other young musicians involved, there are additional attractions, including a powerful, you-are-there recording of the sonata made at the Grieg House in Bergen and an even more atmospheric one of the quartet made at a church in Oslo, plus fine liner notes and lovely color photos of the Grieg House and grounds. Highly recommended.