A Nordic Treat

An impressive turn by the Malmö Symphony Orchestra.

Composer: Grieg

Repertoire: Music for String Orchestra

Artists: Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Bjarte Engeset
Rating: 4/5

Genre: Orchestral

Label: NAXOS 8.572403

The Music: Grieg’s highly melodic music draws heavily on both the landscape and folk tunes of his native Norway. Unusually for his time, he intended his string works for the string section of an entire symphony orchestra, rather than for a smaller specialist string orchestra. The result, as you’ll hear on this recording, is a large, lush body of sound.

The Performance: Debussy’s snide description of Grieg’s music as ‘pink bonbons stuffed with snow’ has mileage in too many interpretations, the descent into twee being easily made if an orchestra overly wallows in the sheer prettiness of Grieg’s melodies and textures. The Malmö Symphony Orchestra has largely avoided this trap, although they skirt a bit close at times. Overall however, there’s an edge to their tone that belies unfavourable comparisons with salon music. They also capture the vocal quality underpinning the Two Elegiac Melodies, and the folk music background to movements such as ‘Norwegian’ from Two Melodies for String Orchestra. 

The Verdict: It’s difficult to avoid a whole disc of Grieg’s music for strings becoming an overdose of Nordic niceness. However, Engeset and the Malmö SO have done so to an impressive extent. Considering too the budget Naxos price, this is purchase-worthy. 

Want More? Sigurd Slåttebrekk’s period recreation of Grieg’s Piano Concerto