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Like Mendelssohn’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Grieg’s Peer Gynt is best known through the various concert suites that the composer compiled after the work’s successful première in 1876. The complete music comprises 26 cues, some of them too short to make their point when played out of context. A critical edition of Peer Gynt was published in 1987, and was immediately recorded by Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra. Now his son Paavo has taped it with forces from his native Estonia. The new recording includes 20 cues, only missing out the melodramas; in this way, Peer Gynt can be accommodated on a single CD. Paavo Järvi secures an excellent response from his Estonian orchestra, and his choirs sound thoroughly engaged – I’m afraid that I can’t comment on the accuracy of their Norwegian! As for the soloists, it’s swings and roundabouts with the old DG set. Peter Mattei (Peer for Järvi fils) makes much more of the Serenade than Carl Gustaf Holmgren on the older set, but I prefer Barbara Bonney’s Solveig to Camilla Tilling, who has a tendency to sing on the sharp side of notes. Both Anitras are jolly good. The Virgin recording has lots of punch - The Hall of the Mountain King will blow your head off. Arguably it’s a little over-reverberant, but I can’t say that it bothered me much. Both Järvis use a large body of strings; the effect in the new recording is particularly fulsome. It would be interesting to hear this music with chamber forces, which is certainly what Grieg would have had available for the theatre production. It’s a score that’s well worth exploring beyond the famous concert suites, and Paavo Järvi’s new disc is currently the most economical way of doing it.
Reviewed by Sandy Matheson