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CD Review

Edvard Grieg

Orchestral Works

  • Norwegian Dances
  • In Autumn Overture
  • Old Norwegian Romance with Variations
  • Erotik (from Lyric Pieces)
  • Johan Svendsen: Two Icelandic Melodies
Iceland Symphony Orchestra/Petri Sakari
Chandos CHAN9028 - 66min
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Sakari and his Icelanders offer up a dynamic and wonderfully atmospheric reading of the familiar Norwegian Dances. Alert and joyous in the buoyant outer sections, the performance is sensitive and tender when appropriate. Sakari's expressive phrasing and excellent sense of pacing are a real asset here. The conductor also displays a sly sense of humor in the coquettish second dance. The Iceland Symphony's playing is characterized by sharp attacks, a rich and warm string tone, fine wind solos, and precise ensemble. Add to that a recorded sound which is superbly balanced, finely detailed (especially note the clarity of the triangle in I), but never claustrophobic.

Alas, the remainder of the disc is a mixed bag. In Autumn comes across as much too self-important and humorless. There's enough devilish mischief in the score to make you think that Grieg must have had Halloween in mind as he wrote it. Beecham emphasized the spookiness in his classic recording, which could convince even the sternest critic that this overture is a minor masterpiece. Sakari, by comparison, is both episodic and introverted - two characteristics which also mar his version of the lightweight Romance with Variations. On the other hand, Sakari treats the gentle love song, Erotik, in a sensitive and delicate manner which will easily win your heart.

The real surprise of this release is the music of the Norwegian Johan Svendsen (1840-1911). His arrangements of two Icelandic melodies are fascinating. The first begins with a quiet statement of the theme by the strings in unison. The melody itself is not unlike the Norwegian tunes that Grieg so frequently used, and Svendsen's arrangement could easily be mistaken for a forgotten moment from Peer Gynt. Appropriately, this simple theme is given a simple, yet effective treatment. II also begins with a unison statement of the theme by the string orchestra, but rich harmonies and a syncopated pizzicato accompaniment result in a considerably more "modern" sound than anything from Grieg's pen. Both arrangements are captivatingly played by orchestra and conductor.

Copyright © 1995, Thomas Godell.
This review originally appeared in the American Record Guide