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Trolling for Peer Gynt

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: May 27, 2005 - 11:55:15 PM in reviews_2005

(first published in The Cincinnati Post May 26, 2005)

Paavo Järvi: Estonian National Symphony Orchestra. Grieg, "Peer Gynt." Baritone Peter Mattei. Soprano Camilla Tilling. Mezzo-soprano Charlotte Hellekant. Ellerhein Girls’ Choir. Estonian National Male Choir. Virgin Classics. A

Troll the record bins June 7 for this stunning new release from Paavo Järvi and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra.

This is the team that produced the 2004 Grammy-winner "Sibelius Cantatas" with the Estonian National Male Choir and Ellerhein Girls’ Choir (also for Virgin Classics).

They’re back with a trio of splendid soloists, Peter Mattei as the errant ladies’ man Peer, Camilla Tilling as Solveig, the girl back home, and Charlotte Hellekant as the Bedouin seductress Anitra.

"Peer Gynt" is one of the most popular scores in classical music. Written as incidental music for the 1876 play by Henrik Ibsen, the work is best known for the two suites Grieg extracted from it. He wrote 26 numbers in all (the suites comprise only eight) and you can hear 20 of them here in some of the most vivid performances on disc. (CSO music director emeritus Jesus Lopez-Cobos led a similar version in 1992 at Music Hall with narrator Werner Klemperer.)

It begins with the boisterous "At the Wedding," where Peer inhospitably abducts the bride, and the viola gets to do the "fiddling" (the violin gets two chances later). You can feel the bride’s pain in the aching, pounding music of "Ingrid’s Lament," and Järvi builds "In the Hall of the Mountain King" to a furious climax before coming down to earth in the soft, solemn "Ase’s Death" (Peer’s mother).

Mattei’s rakish baritone in "Peer Gynt’s Serenade" contrasts beautifully with Tilling in her lovely "Solveig’s Song," while Hellekant (heard with Järvi and the CSO in Sibelius’ "Kullervo" in September) gives full voice to the seductive Anitra in "Arabian Dance."

Lesser known numbers include the wryly humorous "Peer Gynt and the Woman in Green" (the troll king’s daughter), "Peer Gynt at the Statue of Memnon" (reminiscent of the temple music in Mozart’s "Magic Flute") and the touching, a capella "Whitsun Hymn" as Peer is returning home to Norway.

The familiar "Morning Mood" chirps merrily, the "Storm at Sea" rages with wind-whistling fury, and "Solveig’s Cradle Song" with Tilling and the choirs casts a final, tender benediction.

Note: Järvi will lead the CSO in selections from "Peer Gynt" Nov. 17-19 at Music Hall.