Grieg: Peer Gynt (CD review)

Peter Mattei, Camilla Tilling, Charlotte Hellekant, soloists; Paavo Jarvi, Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. Virgin Classics 7243 5 45722-2.

Of the recordings I've now heard by Paavo Jarvi, this one of Grieg's Peer Gynt finds him most at home. Indeed, it is one of the handful of finest performances of this music I have found, and it is a treat for the ears as well.

People probably know Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) best for his incidental music to the Ibsen's play Peer Gynt as well as for the Piano Concerto, although my guess is that most listeners would be more familiar with one or the other of the Peer Gynt concert suites than with the complete incidental music. In any case, it is not the complete incidental music we get here, anyway; it's an abridged version, about sixty minutes, or two-thirds, of the original ninety minutes of music. If you want the complete score, you'll have to go elsewhere, to Dreier, perhaps, on Unicorn or to father Neeme Jarvi on DG. But for the listener who wants the best possible sound and is willing to give up a little something to have most of the music on one disc, this release should fit the bill.

All of the most familiar pieces are here, from "The Hall of the Mountain King" through "The Death of Ase," "Morning Mood," "Arabian Dance," "Anitra's Dance," "Solveig's Song," to the closing "Solveig's Cradle Song," and many more, twenty of the twenty-six sections in all. The soloists--Peter Mattei, Camilla Tilling, and Charlotte Hellekant--are uniformly beautiful in execution and the two choirs--the Estonian Girls' Choir and the Estonian National Male Choir--are in equally top form. The music still doesn't seem all of a piece to me, but that is the nature of the score, accompaniment as it is to something else.

Virgin's sound, recorded in the Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn, Estonia, is mostly excellent, perhaps a touch forward and bright in spots and not as dimensional as I'd like it to be, but pretty well balanced all the way around. Bass is adequate without being overpowering; mids are natural except in the highest regions; and treble is light and airy. This is an outstanding set in almost every way.


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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.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa