Top Ear

Gerd Albrecht’s Grieg and Bizet Suites: An Expensive Indulgence

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Jeremy Lee writes

These are excellent performances of warhorse pieces that have been recorded and performed too many times.  Gerd Albrecht is an underrated conductor.  Never mannered or calculated, always inspired, spontaneous, and natural, he was able to keep the music consistently fresh by employing lively and flowing tempi and coaxing transparent textures and precise playing from his orchestras.  This was what made his Bruckner 8th with the Czech Philharmonic and his Beethoven cycle and Mahler 5th with the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra superb, and the same applies to his Grieg and Bizet.  If there was any criticism, it would be that his music-making lacked gravitas when necessary (the first two movements of his M5 for example), but who needs gravitas in Grieg and Bizet?  This music, overplayed it may be, are light-hearted, entertaining bonbons, and they suit Albrecht and his fantastic Japanese orchestra to a tee.  The sonics, as expected from this source, are excellent, probably the best ever of these pieces.

One thing I don’t really understand, however, is Exton’s very high asking price for a half-full disc.  At less than 41 minutes playing time, this is probably one of the most expensive discs per minute of playing time that you can buy.  That playing time could easily have been filled with Carmen Suite No. 2, or, if Albrecht didn’t fancy that suite, some similar work like Tchaikovsky’s Nutracker or Bizet’s Jeux d’Enfants.  If it’s the coupling of Carmen and Peer Gynt you want, Slatkin/St. Louis is an exciting performance in great sound (not as realistic as Exton’s though), or Ermler/Royal Philharmonic for a budget alternative.  And let’s not forget that there are about a million other alternatives for the individual suites.  Fine performances they may be, this disc wouldn’t have stood a chance in the fierce competition, and sure enough, it’s now out of print.  In sum, if you happen to stumble upon a copy, I would certainly recommend it–provided that it’s sold at a cut-throat discount.

Details

  • Album name:  Grieg:  Peer Gynt Suites Nos. 1 & 2;  Bizet:  Carmen Suite No. 1
  • Performers:  Gerd Albrecht (conductor), Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra
  • Label:  Exton OVCL-00137 (1 SACD)
  • Sonics:  Stereo DDD
  • Total playing time:  40:41
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Author: Top Ear

Musical hooligans.

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