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Good if not perfect performances of some repertoire stalwarts and some marvelous raritiesNov. 6 2010
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The Peer Gynt suites hardly need an introduction, but the two other works are presumably relatively unfamiliar to many. They are related in that both are based on the saga of king Olav Trygvason in the poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's treatment. Landkjenning ("Land-sighting") is set as a two-part song, with a wonderful orchestral prelude leading to one of Grieg's very best melodies. The development is mostly based on repetition, but with great variety in scoring, color and atmosphere. The second theme is solemnly noble and pretty memorable as well. Landkjenning is, in short, a wonderful creation, as stirring and atmospheric as anything the composer wrote. The soloists and orchestra are very good, and Järvi has an admirable grip on the score, but the chorus is too weakly sounding.
The fragment Olav Trygvason was Grieg's attempt at opera. He composed the music for three scenes, then abandoned the project - obviously not because of a lack of good musical ideas, for what he did create is magnificent, but it also clearly lacks the drama and momentum of a good opera and comes across more as three independent (though gorgeous) tableaux - the last one being particularly effective. The performances are generally convincing, but best in the third scene, and I cannot help but suspect that it would be possible to find even more fire in this music.
In the Peer Gynt suites the competition is obviously fierce, with Barbirolli and Karajan probably leading the field. Järvi and the Gothenburgers do a good job, particularly in the second suite (though the first does, arguably, lack poignancy and a little bit of fire). Overall, though, this is a very fine set, and certainly firmly recommendable, especially for the two rarities. The sound is a little thin and the disc is recorded at a far too low level, but if you adjust the volume the result is fairly decent.