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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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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa