Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) was a Romantic pianist and composer whose use of folk music elements in his native Norway somewhat mirrors similarly explorations by contemporaries like Bedrich Smetana, Jean Sibelius, Anton Dvorak and others in other parts of Europe.
This 2-CD set on the budget German label, Pilz, presents a nice variety of the instantly-likable work of Grieg, including some of his better-known and more obscure works. The Slowakische Philarmnonie, conducted by Libor Pesek, and pianist Stefan Jeschko perform wonderfully, showing that lesser-known ensembles and players sometimes get short shrift as their status allows for these budget labels to offer well-performed music at a low price with no noticeable reduction in quality.
The Holberg Suite was published in 1884 to celebrate the bicentennial of the birth of Norwegian playwright Ludvig Holberg and is based on musical forms (the air, sarabande and gavotte, for example) from the 18th-century. Grieg is most renowned for his Peer Gynt suite, which will be highlighted here sometime, but the Holberg has as much going for it, including one after another of memorable and beautiful melodies, as well as striking harmonizing of instrumentation. Notably, the Holberg was originally composed for solo piano and only later adapted for orchestra, where the richness of its melodies and general structure are more fully realized.
What follows are a quartet of "Norwegian Wedding Dances," and a smattering of lyric pieces for piano that are beautifully rendered and redolent of the Romantic style which was the rage at the time. Particularly notable are the Halling Dances, which include some of Grieg's more recognizable melodic themes.
Then, there is the Ballade in G Minor, also known as "Ballade in the Form of Variations on a Norwegian Folk Song", the source being "The Mountain Song," is another gorgeous piano work of themes and variations which starts quietly and impressionistically and builds from there, with a clear (at least for this amateur listener) from Chopin and Schubert, as it develops impressively and more forcefully with crystalline arpeggios and strong left-hand block chords. Jeschko, as throughout the recording, plays with virtuosity, authority and a balance of power and a light touch as called for.
The second disc is principally noted for its rendering of the Lyric Suite, derived from a larger body of Lyric Pieces Grieg composed with three of the pieces developed from original orchestrations of lyric pieces by Hungarian conductor Anton Seidl, though Grieg later revamped the trio and added a fourth entirely his own. Grieg appreciated Seidl's work but felt that his lighter touch did not accord well with Seidl's more bombastic style developed partly from his training under Franz Liszt and more prominently from his long association with Richard Wagner. In any case, these are very fine pieces performed with great skill by Marian Pivca.
A Concerto for Violin in D-Minor by the Philharmonia Slavonica, conducted by Carlo Pantelli, with Bruno Zwicker as soloist; a Symphonic Dance by the Nuremberg Symphony and a Valse Triste by the London Festival Orchestra, the latter two conducted by Alfred Scholz round out the second disc and are beautifully performed and also a nice selection of the variety of the composer's oeuvre.