August 2005

Grieg - Peer Gynt, Incidental Music, Op. 23
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra; Ellerhein Girls’ Choir; Estonian National Male Chorus; Peter Mattei, baritone; Camilla Tilling, soprano; Charlotte Hellekant, mezzo-soprano; Paavo Järvi, conductor
Virgin Classics 45722
Format: CD
Released 2005

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

The two concert suites Grieg extracted from his music for Ibsen’s drama Peer Gynt seem to have disappeared from our concert halls, but we get more generous helpings of the original stage music nowadays, in both concerts and recordings. This new Virgin CD offers all the music from the first production except the "melodramas" (i.e., numbers in which music is performed under spoken lines), and everything about it rings with affection, enthusiasm and deep commitment. Paavo Järvi doesn’t seem to "interpret" the music so much as simply to allow it to open up and bloom. He has the Tallinn orchestra and choruses aglow with confidence and polish as well as remarkable spirit, and the orchestra’s solo violin and viola give persuasive imitations of the Hardanger fiddle.

The three Swedish soloists certainly sound as if they enjoyed this assignment, particularly the baritone Peter Mattei (not to be confused with the film director and writer), who has created such a stir in the last few years. Camilla Tilling, the soprano in Solvejg’s songs, and the mezzo Charlotte Hellekant, as Anitra, might have benefited from a softer sonic focus, but their singing is both beautiful and characterful.

In every other respect the recording itself is simply superb -- one of the most all-round natural reproductions of orchestral and choral sound in some time. The documentation includes full texts in Norwegian, English, French and German.