Edvard Grieg: Choral Music


Grex Vocalis, conducted by Carl Høgset, takes us on a journey to Grieg’s musical treasures. With Magnus Staveland as tenor soloist we venture into the Heavens with “Four Hymns” after having explored the joys and sorrows of life in “Children´s Songs” and “Album for Male Voices”. En route we are also presented the evergreen songs “Last Spring” and “Ave, Maris Stella”.

Choral music is a genre rarely associated with Edvard Grieg, but this CD reveals him as a composer with distinctive gifts for choral writing. He composed about 50 choral works, and this CD includes about half of them, including his final work, an a cappella setting of four Psalms. The pieces are notable for their musical variety; they include children’s songs, folk-song arrangements, and music for liturgical use, and while many are recognizable as Grieg’s work, several have an eccentric quirkiness that sheds new light on his musical personality. Kvålins halling, for men’s chorus and bass solo, a traditional Norwegian fiddle dance to which the composer sets nonsense syllables, is the most wonderfully odd; it has a kind of rocking, proto-minimalist pattern sporadically interrupted by bursts of late-Romantic harmonic effulgence. The collection contains one familiar work, a choral arrangement of Våren (Last spring), perhaps his most famous solo song. The Psalms are models of expressive, harmonically rich Romantic vocal writing. The CD includes pieces for mixed voices as well as men’s and women’s choruses. The works presented here offer a wealth of attractive choral music that deserves to find a place in the repertoire of choirs interested in venturing beyond the standard literature. The Norwegian ensemble Grex Vocalis, conducted by Carl Høgset, sings with a warm, ringing tone; excellent intonation; and a beautiful blend. The soloists make a strong contribution; tenor Magnus Staveland sings with passion and sensitivity and bass-baritone Daníel Óskar Daníelsson‘s boisterous performance adds to the rollicking fun of Kvålins halling.

Edvard Grieg‘s vocal output is rich, wide-ranging – and heterogeneous. He seems to have felt equally at home in any kind of writing technique, his oeuvre consisting of anything from small children’s songs and burlesque folkloristic compositions on anonymous texts to grand-scale religious works and dramatic song cycles based on poetic art by internationally outstanding Norwegian poets.

What really fascinates in this polychromatic world of songs and choral settings is the total lack of formal consistency between works within the same opus number – Grieg obviously didn’t mind at all putting together songs of the most opposite aesthetic contents. One might even suspect he fancied this kind of formal pluralism, or that he in some cases just organized his songs in categories more based on score settings than on chronology and texture.

Planning a comprehensive CD recording of Edvard Grieg’s choral music therefore calls for a great deal of programmatic consideration: should one perform the songs in their original order of appearance or present them assorted to genre? This recording does the latter, thus generating a dynamic vocal image of Grieg’s compositional genius.

Review from allmusic.com

2L (2L45SACD), 2007
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