FBRCD-06, Grieg Revisited.

Aftenposten. Astrid Kvalbein, 5 July 2010.
The Oslo String Quartet presents us with various versions of Edvard Grieg’s music. On the quartet’s latest record, cellist Øystein Sonstad has gone to the length of completing String quartet No. 2 in F Major, as well as rearranging the piano classic “Ballade in G Minor” and the melodrama Bergljot.
The first experiment is the most daring one. Sonstad has done a lot of arranging, but mainly in lighter genres, like ABBA songs. Now it sounds like he is ready for weightier tasks. The Grieg/Sonstad combination sounds convincing through all four movements, including the ones that have been written merely on the basis of rough notes by the composer. There is a lightness to the opus – rather cheerful, with a folk music feel – that Sonstad builds on. Occasionally I wonder whether it becomes too light, without the harmonic melancholy that often provides the necessary ballast in Grieg. But that is just as true of the original as of the arrangement.
Intimate acquaintance.
The excellent musical interpretation may also reflect the fact that the arranger has played – and is intimately acquainted with – not just much of Grieg’s oeuvre, but also many other string quartets, including virtually the whole canon. Nor should we forget the contributions of the highly competent, bright and punctuated performances of the whole quartet to the overall experience. They all help to ensure that the “Ballade in G Minor” also works wonderfully well, with the legato and tone of the string instruments enhancing all of the variations. In the case of the melodrama Bergljot, the arrangement feels like a good compromise between the existing ones: the version for orchestra and the one for piano.
If the genre sounds slightly odd to modern ears, and if Lise Fjeldstad’s forthright and gripping interpretation occasionally tips over into the melodramatic, this is partly due to her, but mainly due to the passage of time, and the composer’s occasional failure to successfully handle great dramatic range.

Vårt Land. Lars O. Flydal, 17 August 2010.
Edvard Grieg struggled with his quartet in F Major – “that blasted quartet lies there incomplete, like an old, Norwegian cheese” he wrote in a letter in 1895. Four years earlier he had begun on what was supposed to be a much more cheerful quartet than his first quartet in G Minor. By the time of his death sixteen years later, he had only completed two of the movements. Øystein Sonstad, the cellist in the Oslo String Quartet, has now completed the work based on Grieg’s outline for the other two movements. He has done so with deep respect for the existing material, but particularly in the final movement he has managed to create music that stands well on its own two feet, while also rounding off the quartet as a whole. In the spirit of Grieg he has drawn on a variety of sources to create music is in harmony with the prior material. Henceforth there will be no reason to perform just two movements of the work, with all four available, and you need to know the work very well and count the beats carefully to be able to distinguish between Sonstad and Grieg. 
Sorrow and melancholy.
The Ballade in G Minor is problematic as a string quartet. Not simply because of its association with the lonely man at the piano mourning the loss of his parents. In the piano version, you can feel the raw sorrow and melancholy. Perhaps it would be different if you didn’t know the original version, but the deep pain appears more naked and authentic when expressed through a single instrument. It sounds so convincing, it is so Grieg-like, but however good Øystein Sonstad’s arrangement is – and it is – this piece is just not quite right for a string quartet. There is something about the mood of the piece that just doesn’t work if it is orchestrated. The Holberg Suite was also originally written for piano, although today we only know it as an orchestral piece. But its tones and range of harmonies are enhanced when performed by an orchestra.
Successful arrangement.
Bergliot for string quartet is an example of a successful arrangement. In this version, the narrative voice becomes more prominent, and the mood of the work does not suffer from the simplification – rather the reverse. And Lise Fjeldstad’s narration is powerful and gripping.

Dag og tid. Sjur Haga Brinkeland, 6 August 2010.

The musicians in the Oslo String Quartet like to expand their repertoire. In conjunction with the 100th anniversary of Grieg’s death in 2007, they set themselves the task of adding to the composer’s oeuvre in the quartet format. The works on this album include the Ballade in G Minor, opus 24. It is really Grieg’s greatest work for solo piano, and one which he struggled greatly to perform himself, because it always reminded him of his sorrow at the loss of his parents. It consists of fourteen variations on a Valdres folk song, and it works admirably as a string quartet, not least thanks to the plaintiff vibrato used by the violinists to draw out the tone. The instrumentation also clearly brings out Grieg’s subtle use of several voices in some of the variations. The Oslo String Quartet’s performance is good, with a nuanced expression, clean intonation and smooth tempo changes.

Klassisk musikkmagasin. Martin Andersson. 3/2010
The Oslo String Quartet’s latest CD only includes new material – no mean feat for a pure Grieg album these days. Øystein Sonstad, the group’s cellist, has transcribed two pieces for string quartet: the piano piece Ballade and Bergljot, for narrator and orchestra. He has also completed String quartet No. 2 in a way that is closer to Grieg’s notes than Julius Röntgen’s previous effort. To my mind Sonstad’s arrangements are absolutely convincing: you would not imagine, without being told, that the shorter pieces were not originally written for string quartet, and String quartet No. 2 should enter the regular concert repertoire. Lise Fjeldstad is a sonorous and powerful Bergljot, and although the Oslo String Quartet doesn’t always produce the most polished sound, there is no doubting their dedication. We should be grateful for this album.

Dagbladet, Ståle Wikshåland, 27.08. 2010 (In Norwegian):
06 DB
Other reviews:

FBRCD-12: Thommessen /Bibalo

FBRCD-11: Bite the Dog ll

FBRCD-10: Arvesylv

FBRCD-09: Crossing Patterns

FBRCD-07: Passione

FBRCD-06: Grieg Revisited

Currently in Norwegian only:

FBRCD-16: Chasing Strings

FBRCD-15: Anvik-Thoresen-Ravel

FBRCD-14: Tapestry

FBRCD-13: Portraits

FBRCD-08: Jumping Wide

FBRCD-05: Cirrus

FBRCD-04: Nostos

FBRCD-03: 19 March 2004, Oslo Cathedral

FBRCD-02: Oslo String Quartet Falling Upwards

FBRCD-01: Twitter Machine