Grieg: Peer Gynt Op. 23 / Ruud, Hagegård, Et Al
If you want Grieg's complete Peer Gynt with dialogue, this is the set to own. It really does represent a new standard, musically, dramatically, and technically. Let me say up front that ordinarily I'm not a fan of music with dialogue, but these actors are so involved, and their participation is so skillfully integrated into the acoustic framework and the musical flow, that the sound of idiomatically spoken Norwegian becomes a sort of quasi-musical counterpoint all on its own. Of course, it helps that the actual music, as realized by Ruud and his Bergen forces, also is outstandingly played and sung. His interpretation has all of the necessary freshness and energy that Grieg's score requires. It's theatrical and exciting but also sensitive; rustic without being crude.
High points are almost too numerous to list: there's Ruud's ebullient overture and his perfectly judged accelerando at In the Hall of the Mountain King; the rush of excitement when Peer Gynt is being hunted by the trolls; the characterfully grotesque Dance of the Mountain King's Daughter; the effortless flow of Morning Mood; Anitra's sexy little belly dance; a wonderfully urgent Peer Gynt's Homecoming; a terrifying shipwreck that happily avoids tacky sound effects; and it's all capped by the beautiful vocal contributions of Marita Solberg, who sings a particularly earthy, warm-toned Solveig. As with all the participants in this performance, she seems not just concerned with getting the notes right, but she's also fully involved with the text and in communicating what the music means, almost as if it were new. The chorus also characterizes its part with enthusiasm, avoiding that "churchy" feel that sometimes dogs performances with voices (except, of course, in the Whitsun Hymn, where it's called for).
It's also worth pointing out the extreme care that BIS has taken over production values. In SACD multichannel format, not only do you get enhanced three-dimensionality with respect to the basic soundstage, but sensitive use of the rear speakers creates atmosphere--for example, at such moments as the scene with the Boyg, or at various places requiring offstage voices--without ever drawing gratuitous attention to the technical side of things. The bottom line is that this production offers an unparalleled experience of Grieg's music in which the technology is placed entirely in the service of musical and theatrical values. The packaging and presentation are also exceptional: you get two booklets, one with notes and texts (Norwegian and English), the other with production stills from the actual play. Clearly everyone concerned with this release has pulled out all of the stops, and it has paid off handsomely. An exceptional achievement. [6/28/2005]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Catalog Number: BIS-SACD-1441-42
Composer: Edvard Grieg
Conductor: Ole Kristian Ruud
Orchestra/Ensemble: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Kor Vest
Performer: Andrea Braein Hovig, Arve Moen Bergset, Bjorn Willberg Andersen, Håkan Hagegård, Hilde Haraldsen Sveen, Ilkka Leppänen, Ingebjörg Kosmo, Kari Postma, Kari Simonsen, Marita Solberg, Ståle Bjornhaug, Svein Sturla Hungnes, Torbjorn Gulbrandsoy