|The London Philharmonic - Classical Masters Series: Grieg|
|Music Disc Reviews DVD-Audio|
|Written by Richard Elen|
|Tuesday, 20 February 2001|
If you’ve been following my reviews for any length of time, you’ll know that when it comes to instrumental music, I often like a good tune. While this predilection can make my tastes a bit commercial at times, there’s nothing wrong with being populist on occasion.
When it comes to populist, at the end of the 19th Century, there were few Scandinavian composers around who were more popular than Edvard Grieg. To put it another way, there were few Scandinavian composers. But seriously, Grieg was a distinct best-seller. I’m sure that his ability to turn a good tune had something to do with it, coupled with the fact that he virtually single-handedly created a Norwegian national music.
We don’t really remember a lot of Grieg’s music today, although he, like other composers of the period, seems to be making a comeback with the advent of "Top 40"-style classical radio stations, where composers like Grieg and Fauré, (the latter having once been regarded with the same disdain by the classical music establishment that it today reserves for the likes of bond – see review <link>), are now once again seeing the light of day and gathering a whole new generation of appreciative fans. Rather like the Beatles, in fact.
Silverline, aka 5.1 Entertainment, was responsible, if I remember correctly, for the very first DVD-A ever released commercially, and since the very beginning, they’ve been at the forefront of high resolution, multi-channel audio. One of their most popular activities, which has got them into stores that have never otherwise heard of "DVD-A," is their release of a number of series of single-disc "DVD Music" collections. They have at least two popular music series, one DVD-A/V and the other DVD-V. In addition, they produce a number of classical series, including this one, the "Classical Masters" series, which features performances by the London Philharmonic recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London and presents the work of a number of well-known composers.
Like the other discs in the series, with the Grieg album, 5.1 Entertainment has taken these Abbey Road recordings (of uncertain vintage, though all I’ve heard so far are perfectly respectable, even if perhaps not recorded on the latest equipment) and remixed them for surround to create a disc that’s playable by any DVD player, including both DTS and Dolby audio options, as well as offering the very best 24-bit, 96 kHz reproduction if you are lucky enough to own a DVD-Audio player.
All Silverline’s discs have audio setup information and explanatory notes, and often more than one visual option. In this case, you can either read informative program notes on the pieces or you can watch gently cross-fading images of European paintings or "Northern scenery" while the music plays. The latter photographs are actually extraordinarily gorgeous, crisp and sharp, and the whole effect is very restful and a most enjoyable experience. (There used to be a TV channel in the U.K. called "The Landscape Channel," which played beautiful music to video and still pictures of scenery and wildlife, and this would have fit the format beautifully.)
The "Classical Masters" series essentially presents each composer’s "greatest hits," and although there aren’t a large number of Grieg pieces that are regularly played today, I think you’ll find all the familiar ones here – and perhaps a couple that aren’t so well-known. The obvious choice of "Morning Mood" from the first of the composer’s Peer Gynt Suites leads off the disc, followed by the "Gavotte" from the Holberg Suite. Another one of these 17th-century style dances appears later on the disc. Rather than place movements from the same work next to one another, the compilers here have decided instead to spread them liberally around the disc, presumably for variety.
The vast majority of Grieg’s works were originally composed for solo piano, and only later did he orchestrate just a few of them: these are the pieces generally heard today. One that was originally written for both piano and orchestra is the Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Minor, Opus 16, and the best-known and wonderfully evocative movement, the Adagio, appears near the end of the disc. We don’t get to know who the soloist is, unfortunately, and if I have a criticism of the disc, it is that the piano is a bit distant on this recording. But then I perhaps have a tendency to push solo instruments too high in a mix (that’s what you get for working with singers who can’t enunciate).
You really can’t go wrong with these Silverline collections, and if you’re of a mind to relax of an evening and let some beautiful and often moving late-19th-century instrumental classical music (and optionally beautiful pictures) flow over you, Grieg is a good choice. Just sit back and sink into the music.