Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) is best known for his iconic Piano Concerto in A minor, op. 16, written in 1868 when the composer was just 24 years old, and his Peer Gynt suites, No. 1, op. 46 (1875, 1888), and No. 2, op. 55 (1875, 1891). Like Tchaikovsky, Grieg had a gift for melody.
Grieg once wrote, “Artists like Bach and Beethoven erected churches and temples on the heights. I only wanted to build dwellings for men in which they might feel happy and at home.” With this in mind, you will find no better introduction to some of the other gorgeous music that Grieg wrote than Norwegian conductor Bjarte Engeset conducting Sweden’s Malmö Symphony Orchestra on Naxos 8.572403.
Seldom have I found a disc of music so beautifully paced and played. These five pieces for string orchestra (augmented by oboe and horn on “Evening in the Mountains”) followed by one piece for full orchestra provide the listener with over 71 minutes of pure enjoyment that will convince you (if you weren’t already convinced) that Grieg deserves a place alongside the most significant composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For me, personally, every one of these pieces is a favorite. There is nothing to skip over here!
Two Elegiac Melodies, op. 34 (1880)
+ The Wounded Heart
+ The Last Spring
Two Melodies for String Orchestra, op. 53 (1890)
+ The First Meeting
From Holberg’s Time: Suite in Olden Style, op. 40 (1884)
Two Lyric Pieces, op. 68 (1897-1899)
+ Evening in the Mountains
+ At the Cradle
Two Nordic Melodies for String Orchestra, op. 63 (1895)
+ In Folk Style
+ Cow-Call & Peasant Dance
Lyric Suite, op. 54 (1905)
+ Shepherd Boy
+ March of the Dwarves
Don’t let words like “gorgeous” and “pure enjoyment” give you the impression that this music is lightweight fare. There is a sadness in this beautiful music that evinces that it is anything but superficial. Grieg and his wife Nina lost their only child, Alexandra, to meningitis when she was little more than a year old, Nina later miscarried a second child, and Grieg himself suffered all his adult life from the effects of pleurisy he had contracted when he was 17 years old.