Aeon's 2005 recording of Ibsen's 1867 verse play Peer Gynt, including the incidental music by Edvard Grieg, grew out of performances in Geneva in 1998 and 2000 featuring L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande and Le Motet de Genève. The concert version, which required trimming the five-hour play to a manageable two hours, included all of Grieg's music and enough of Ibsen's text, along with linking narration written by Alain Perroux, to provide the listener with a context for following the story. It can't be claimed to have the same impact as hearing the music incorporated into the full play (a virtual impossibility, given the economics of theatrical productions and the attention span of modern audiences), but it is probably as close an approximation of that experience as can reasonably be expected, and as such it’s highly successful. Sections of the play for which Grieg provided underscoring are even more powerfully effective when heard in context than when isolated from it, as is usual in the orchestral performances of the suites the composer derived from the score, an indication that he had sure instincts for writing for the stage. "The Death of Ase" is almost unbearably wrenching in this setting. Actors Alex Jennings, Haydn Gwynne, and Derek Jacobi offer splendidly vivid characterizations, dividing the roles between them, and Jacobi makes a fine Narrator. Guillaume Tourniaire leads L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in sensitive and carefully shaped performances of the musical episodes. His is a fairly conventional reading of the score, but it is spirited and played with style and shouldn't disappoint the composer's fans. The addition of the chorus, particularly in the movements devoted to Peer's adventures in the hall of the Mountain King, is especially exhilarating, and Le Motet de Genève sings beautifully and vigorously. The vocal soloists are very fine, particularly Inger Dam-Jensen as Solveig. Grieg's use of a Hardanger fiddle, a Norwegian folk instrument similar to a violin, is exceptionally effective and gives the score a much stronger nationalistic flavor than the music from the suites suggests, and it's played with raw vitality by Vegar Vardal. Aeon's sound is clear and well-balanced, with a vibrant sense of presence. Anyone who loves Grieg's music is likely to be thrilled to hear everything he wrote for the play, particularly when performed so well, and in the dramatic context for which it was conceived.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2