Grieg: Peer Gynt, Incidental Music (CD review)

Also Symphonic Dance; Concert Overture 'In Autumn'; Old Norwegian Folksong with Variations.  Ilse Hollweg, soprano, Beecham Choral Society; Sir Thomas Beecham, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI 50999 9 65934 2 4.

If you missed this recording of the Peer Gynt incidental music conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham when it first appeared on LP in the mid Fifties, and you missed its subsequent reissues on LP, cassette tape, and CD over the years, now is the time to pick it up in yet another incarnation, a part of the EMI Masters "Great Classical Recordings" series. The interpretation exudes the usual Beecham charm and has long been one of my favorite recordings in this music.

Of course, Beecham does not give us all of the music Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) wrote for Henrik Ibsen's play, Peer Gynt. Beecham provides about forty-two minutes' worth. If you want the complete incidental music, you have to turn to people like Per Drier on Unicorn or Neeme Jarvi on DG.  Beecham's extended selections are more like the suites, of which one can find any number of fine recordings. What Beecham brings to the table is his characteristic twinkle, lighting up the music with enchantment and charisma aplenty. And, naturally, the extended selections include Grieg's most-famous pieces: "In the Hall of the Mountain King," "Morning," "Ase's Death," "Arabian Dance," "Solveig's Song," "Anitra's Dance," "Solveig's Lullaby," etc.

In addition, the disc includes Beecham's recordings of Symphonic Dance, the overture In Autumn, and the Old Norwegian Folksong with Variations. They may not be among Grieg's greatest achievements, but Beecham lavishes so much affection on them that even their most overly theatrical moments seem better than what they probably are.

The sound, digitally remastered in 1998, is as good as ever, too, belying the 1955-59 recording dates involved. If you already own the '98 edition, though, you might want to hang on to it because I could detect no difference here. Also be aware that the audio engineers appear to have applied some small degree of noise reduction to the sound, resulting in a slight overall softening, some minor dulling of the original luster, especially in the midrange. Still, the album is better sounding than it has any right to sound, given its age, and is able to compete sonically and musically with any more-recent effort.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa