Tonight’s reading, in Salzburg’s Great Festival House, of excerpts from Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt (in German translation) clarified the music of Edvard Grieg.

Although I have heard Grieg’s complete incidental music to Peer Gynt (accompanying a reading in Russian), normally only the two short suites get performed, disembodied from the whole.  The Munich Symphony Orchestra kept only the two suites as well this evening, but by inserting the readings that explained what the music itself sought to describe, it gave them additional meaning and drama.  This is nice music, but much nicer when put in context – indeed, the music makes a whole lot more sense this way (I do not believe I have ever heard “In the Hall of the Mountain King” quite like that before).

Friedrich von Thun, a famous Austrian actor, did the readings.  He can still certainly act, but his voice has become dry and crackly and required amplification.  He worked well, however, with Estonian conductor Anu Tali, who knew how to draw out the dramatic scenes from just eight segments of music.  Unfortunately it is worth noting that Tali is a woman – not that has anything to do with her music-making, but only because it is so absurdly rare to see female conductors for reasons I have never comprehended.  Good for her.

The concert opened with Grieg’s Piano Concerto, performed with the young Austrian pianist Florian Feilmair.  The Munich Symphony Orchestra apparently performs a lot of European movie soundtracks, which gives it a somewhat homogeneous background tone – and although he played well (albeit sometimes hesitantly), Feilmair just did not blend in.  The concerto thus came off sounding like it was an orchestral work that Grieg never fully orchestrated.


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