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 Favourites, Edvard Grieg

Edvard GriegNorwegian composer Edvard Grieg belongs to that family of Romantic nationalists who, amid the turmoil of the 19th century, saw music as a way to define and develop a national identity - as Sibelius defined musical Finnishness against Russian influence and Smetana sketched a musical Bohemia that owed nothing to Austrian power, so Grieg sought to distance Norway from the musical dominance of both Denmark and Sweden.

He shared with Tchaikovsky the almost magical ability to write one memorable and catchy tune after another, and it is these immortal melodies that have propelled his most famous works into the popular consciousness - the Hall of the Mountain King and Morning from the Peer Gynt Suite, the Trolls' March and Wedding Day at Troldhaugen from among his ten volumes of Lyric Pieces for the piano, and many others.

Orchestral Works

Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16

Grieg's most famous large-scale work, the Piano Concerto is a formidable challenge to even the most gifted pianists, yet Stephen Hough makes light of it in this commanding performance. His sensitivity in the slow movement is matched only by the silkiness of the string playing by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra under their conductor Andrew Litton.

Available Format: CD

Peer Gynt Suites Nos. 1 & 2

Perhaps the most recognisable piece of Grieg is Morning Mood, from his ever-popular pair of suites of incidental music to Ibsen's play Peer Gynt. Here the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, under conductor Eivind Aadland, present characterful accounts of both suites, plus the less well-known Symphonic Dances.

Available Formats: SACD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Sigurd Jorsalfar - incidental music, Op. 22

A celebration of the life and heritage of Sigurd I of Norway (a twelfth-century monarch whose rule saw Norway enjoy a golden age of prosperity), this suite is a lesser-known cousin of the Peer Gynt music, but no less inventive and varied. Neeme Järvi and the Göteborgs Symfoniker pay a vividly-played tribute to their Norwegian neighbour.

Available Formats: 2 CDs, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Lyric Suite, Op. 54

The WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln has won many awards for its series of Grieg's complete symphonic works, so it's no surprise that I find myself turning to them for a second time for their performance of the Lyric Suite, the composer's own selection of some of the most famous of his Lyric Pieces for the piano.

Available Formats: SACD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Holberg Suite, Op. 40

The Holberg Suite, a re-imagining of the Baroque dance suite in the Romantic idiom of Grieg's time, is one of the cornerstones of the string orchestra repertoire. Here, under the capable baton of Ole Kristian Ruud, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra's strings show just how much variety of sound can come from this one section of the orchestra, before being joined by the rest of its members for a selection of transcriptions of Grieg's piano miniatures.

Available Formats: SACD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Chamber & Instrumental Works

Violin Sonatas Nos 1-3

Grieg's three sonatas for the violin all refer in some way to Norwegian folk melodies, or bear stylistic similarities thereto; they are extremely varied in style, with the first seeming sunny and full of youthful innocence while the second is touched by tragedy. It is the third that has become most popular today; here the late Lydia Mordkovitch is accompanied by her daughter Elena in all three.

Available Formats: MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Lyric Pieces (complete)

Complete recorded sets of Grieg's Lyric Pieces - all ten volumes - are understandably rare. Hakon Austbo's account here is an authoritative and sensitive one, and the price is unbeatable - the perfect opportunity to get to know some of these endlessly varied miniatures that have escaped the popularity of, say, the Trolls' March or the Wedding Day at Troldhaugen.

Available Formats: 3 CDs, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Piano and Cello Sonatas

Dedicated to Danish composer Niels Gade, Grieg's single sonata for the piano encodes his own initials in its opening motif (E-H-G standing for Edvard Hagerup Grieg, in a similar manner to the B-A-C-H and D-Es-C-H motifs). It's sensitively played by Havard Gimse, who then switches roles to accompany Oystein Birkeland in the lengthy Cello Sonata.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2

Grieg's string quartets are hardly his best-known works, yet they show the same gift for a good tune that has made his other pieces famous; unsurprisingly, they seem to inhabit a similar sound-world to his works for string orchestra. Here the Auryn Quartet perform both quartets convincingly, making light of the extensive and taxing double-stopping in the first.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Vocal & Choral Works

Choral Works

Perhaps not known first and foremost as a choral composer, Grieg's relatively small output in this area is nevertheless well worth listening to. This album showcases his sacred choral music, including four psalm-settings and the serene Ave maris stella. The Danish National Radio Choir under Jesper Grove Jørgensen do the honours.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC

Scenes from *Olav Trygvason*

Left unfinished at his death, Olav Trygvason was a Romantic, nationalist conception of a truly Norwegian opera. Its titular hero was the first Christian king of Norway, whose first sighting of Norway is depicted in the heroic, full-blooded Landkjenning, Op. 31 for male chorus - a little-heard work but one of my personal favourites among Grieg's whole output. Here the musicians of the Malmö Opera under Bjarte Engeset bring this stirring chorus, and the three surviving scenes from the opera proper, to life.

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC