Edvard Grieg & Henrik Ibsen: Peer Gynt
Based on concerts the Suisse Romande Orchestra gave in Geneva and Lausanne, Guillaume Tourniaire's performance of the Benestad/Andersen critical edition of the score (essentially the 26 numbers given at the play's 1876 premiere) first appeared in 2005 (A/05). In my Gramophone Collection piece on Peer Gynt in November of that year I would have hailed it unreservedly as the best complete version of Grieg's theatre music had the dialogue and melodramas not been spoken in French. Now those spoken passages have been rendered into English, in a translation by Stephen Taylor which resonates without either period whimsy or banal updating.
The linking narrations and filleting of the play by Main Perroux have been made with sharp knowledge of the Ibsen drama and of what works in concert and on disc. The national characteristics of the actors intriguingly alter the feel of the piece. While Lambert Wilson and his French colleagues are more distanced, Brechtian and mysterious, the British trio immediately embrace a warmer, more comic naturalism. Alex Jennings's voice grows from rough Ulster into an assumed English RP as Peer travels the world; Derek Jacobi is a cunning mix of spooky and funny as the Boyg, here called the Great Obstacle, and no less effective in 10 other parts; Haydn Gwynne hops with enjoyable confidence across the age and sanity barriers from Peer's mother to his various girl friends.
Tourniaire has as much of an eye on the drama as the exceptional discs of excerpts under Beecham (EMI) and Masur (Philips). He has intuited and delivered a true Grieg style from his orchestra, alert, light, swift but not afraid to punch home the ironies (of the Trolls' various numbers) and the intentionally noisy stage effect climaxes (like the Act 5 shipwreck music). The two big melodramas ("Peer and the Obstacle" and "Night Scene") — perhaps the most compelling reasons for getting to know the complete score — find Grieg at his most progressive and inventive and Tourniaire paces them beautifully. Even his rits and rails in the tricky little vocal numbers of Peer's African sojourn in Act 4 come off to a tee.
With English-speaking listeners now as well catered for as French ones, Aeon should seriously consider a Norwegian version, even retaining Perroux's taut narrative material. The Ole Kristian Ruud/Bergen BIS Norwegian set (A105) is authentically self-recommending but it lacks the special fire and imagination of Tourniaire's.
-- Mike Ashman, Gramophone [3/2007]
Catalog Number: AECD0642
Composer: Edvard Grieg
Conductor: Guillaume Tourniaire
Orchestra/Ensemble: Geneva Motet Choir, Suisse Romande Orchestra
Performer: Dietrich Henschel, Inger Dam-Jensen, Sophie Koch, Vegar Vardal