String Quartets (arr. string orch.)/Grieg

March 13, 2012

If at all possible I encourage the listener to first hear the quartets as they were originally designed to be played. A fine recording of the string quartets can be found on Naxos 8.550879 performed by the Oslo quartet.  The ‘G’ minor quartet went on to become the template for Debussy when it came time for him to write his quartet (both done in ‘G’ minor)

It will be an appetizer for what is to come with these Alf Ardal orchestrations of both the ‘G’ minor, Op. 27 and the ‘F’ major unfinished for string orchestra of Grieg. In fact the G minor quartet, written in 1877-1878, was objected to by his publisher as being too thick in texture due in part to his use of double-stopping (to stop two strings together, creating two part harmony)so this arrangement is ideal for the nineteen piece Oslo Camerata ensemble lead by Stephan Barratt-Due who also plays first violin. There is some theory that the ‘G’ minor is somewhat autobiographical although Berger in his book on chamber music traces the origins to his “The Minstrel Song” with words from Ibsen.  It tells the story of minstrels being lured to waterfalls to play their music and in return the spirit takes away their peace of mind and happiness.


Like the majority of his material the G minor quartet is filled with melodic content which the listener can easily be comfortable with. You’ll hear a recurring theme that some will recognize from the beginning of his famous piano concerto. It is repeated in all four movements giving the quartet structure. This is in addition to the introduction of new melodies in each movement. The romanze easily reminds one of a romantic interlude on a spring morning but quickly shifts to a state of agitation as if the composer was searching for something or perhaps a gust of wind. This technique is repeated until the movement ends quietly. The intermezzo is a delightful outgoing happy melody which changes to a melody that could have come right out of “Peer Gynt” before it changes back to the original melody and style. The finale, a lento, offers yet another wonderful dance filled with wonderful harmony.   The string ensemble certainly adds texture and color and the result is a work that flows nicely. The 30+ minutes passes quickly. I like the complex structure of the work and consider it a favorite in chamber music. His unfinished ‘F’ major quartet was written in 1891 after two previous failures. The joy of listening to Grieg is that each movement is filled with melodies that linger with you long after you’re finished listening and these two movements are just another example of his melodic musical writing.


While I’m usually against re-orchestration of works feeling that they should be performed in the original arrangement I take exception with this unit. The Oslo Camerata is a superb ensemble and only enhances these works. The CD also includes the Nordheim work “Rendevous” (1986) which will be reviewed separately.


Grieg String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 27

1… Un poco andante-Allegro molto ed agitato (12:40)

2… Romanze:Andantino-Allegro agitato (6:13)

3… Intermezzo:Allegro molto marcato-Piu vivo e scherzando (6:46)

4… Finale: Lento-Presto al Saltarello (9:18)

Grieg String Quartet in F major

5… Sostenuto-Allegro vivace e grazioso (12:20)

6… Allegro scherzando (7:07)


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