August 2006

Grieg - Symphonic Dances, Two Elegiac Melodies, Norwegian Dances, Holberg Suite
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi cond.
Virgin Classics 44722
Format: CD
Released: 2006

by Richard Freed

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

Following Ole Kristian Ruud’s superb Grieg cycle with the Bergen Philharmonic on BIS, Paavo Järvi now continues his own Grieg survey on Virgin Classics, which began with last year’s release of the Peer Gynt material. While Ruud’s fluent, straightforward accounts of these orchestral works are enormously persuasive, with the Bergen Philharmonic responding gloriously in BIS’s powerful SACD recordings, Järvi has marshaled his own Estonian troops no less effectively. His somewhat more studied approach reveals felicities of Grieg’s orchestration (and Hans Sitt’s in the Norwegian Dances) which neither Ruud nor any other predecessor has made so clear. This is involvement at total-immersion level: That incredible detail is not achieved at the expense of momentum, though some listeners may find Järvi’s treatment of those big pauses at the end of the Symphonic Dances a little labored. (Ruud effectively minimizes them.)

There is a curious miscalculation in Virgin’s disc layout, separating the Two Elegiac Melodies, for strings alone, with the four Norwegian Dances. If the Elegiac pair had been left intact, we could have had simple alternations of full-orchestra dance sets and works for strings, and there would have been no confusion on the listener’s part when the final item on the disc, the Holberg Suite for strings, begins. This will bother some listeners less than others, of course, and in any event, all the performances are utterly persuasive, with the Holberg Suite’s concluding Rigaudon providing a particularly ingratiating wind-up. Virgin’s richly detailed two-channel sound is outstanding in its own right, as specifically tailored to the character of Järvi’s performances as BIS’s is to that of Ruud’s.