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.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

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Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa