Déjà Review: this review was first published in August 2002 and the recording is still available.
Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)
Peer Gynt, Op.23 (excerpts from the incidental music) (1876)
Barbara Hendricks (soprano)
Oslo Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen
Originally reviewed as SBK89898
Sony Classical MK44528 
To many music lovers, it seems as if the big tunes from Peer Gynt have been with us all our lives; in many instances, they probably have. I remember an old Marble Arch LP of the two Suites being the first record I ever bought with my own money. Of course, there is much more to the music of Peer Gynt, and although this Sony disc does not contain the longest selection in the catalogue, it is still over an hour of glorious music. All the familiar tunes are there, but when properly heard in something like the correct sequence and context, they emerge as even more fresh and original.
It appears the present recording was made around 1989, when the Oslo band had become internationally famous through their Jansons/Tchaikovsky cycle. The playing is certainly world-class, full of colour and character, with superb contributions from the strings (including the important viola solos in Act One), woodwind and brass. Salonen whips up tremendous excitement where required, but is alert to the tender, melancholy moments that litter the score. Morning Mood may be one of the most famous pieces of tone painting in all music, but when it is shaped and phrased as sensitively as here, and not played to the gallery, it is most moving. In the Hall of the Mountain King benefits immeasurably from the addition of a chorus, whose ominous chanting here sends a tingle up the spine. Grieg’s absorption of German Romanticism, as well as hints of Impressionism and a touch of folk influence, are evident throughout the music of Peer Gynt. Each Prelude is an evocative little miniature in its own right, and many shifting moods are encompassed with enormous orchestral skill and flair.
Barbara Hendricks’s contribution in the Solveig items is excellent, her smoky tones and tasteful restraint adding atmosphere and dark colour to the music.
This is a hugely enjoyable selection, and will be an ear-opener for those who only know the music through the familiar suites. Not only is the extra music worth getting to know, the whole actually makes far more sense for having a narrative flow. Recording quality is first-rate, and one can only assume it was made in Oslo’s own splendid Philharmonic Hall, the acoustic of which usually serves them very well. There is a useful and informative note, and full marks to Sony for giving us texts and translations for the vocal items – they are a bit erratic on this front, but let’s hope pressure from reviewers is paying dividends! Strongly recommended.
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Act One: Prelude: In the Wedding Garden; The Bridal Procession Passes; Halling; Springar
Act Two: Prelude: The Abduction of the Bride – Ingrid’s Lament; In the Hall of the Mountain King; Dance of the Mountain King’s Daughter
Act Three: Prelude: Deep in the Coniferous Forest; Solveig’s Song; Ase’s Death
Act Four: Prelude: Morning Mood; Arab Dance; Anitra’s Dance; Solveig’s Song
Act Five: Prelude: Peer Gynt’s Journey Home; Solveig’s Song in the Hut; Whitsun Hymn; Solveig’s Lullaby