As much as I like Fjeldstad’s Peer Gynt on Decca/London with the LSO, I have to say that Odd Gruner-Hegge (love that first name!) and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra turn in the better of the two performances. To these ears theirs is more lyrical; it flows more naturally both within and between the individual movements.
The Oslo Phil also gives me more of a sense that they are feeling the joy in the playing of these works; I do not get quite the same feeling from the LSO. As we worked our way through more and more Living Stereo copies, the Oslo Phil.’s enthusiasm and love for the music became recognizably stronger, and, as one would expect, more agreeable and involving.
Our preference for this performance is of course a matter of taste; we cannot be sure you will feel the same. No doubt you have a version of the Fjeldstad on hand for comparison purposes, perhaps the Speakers Corner pressing (which we used to like quite a bit), but any will do. I expect that playing a handful of select movements from the two performances back to back will show this one to be superior.
To be fair, both are superb. A sizable group of other recordings were auditioned, but we found no others that were comparable in terms of both sound and performance.
In comparing the sound I would call it a toss-up, perhaps with the tie going to the Fjeldstad. The Decca is bigger and clearer, but has some aspects to the miking that strike me as infelicitous. The brass in places seems to jump out and call attention to itself, which never happens on the RCA. Although less of a Demo Disc, the sound of the Gruner-Hegge performance was slightly more involving, or is it the performance that draws you in? As usual, separating the sound of the music from the music itself is no easy task, if it is even possible at all.
Rich, tubey, yet open and clear, with lovely string textures, especially in the lower strings, as would be expected of any Living Stereo recording from 1958. Anitra’s Dance (sounding very much like a movement from Scheherazade) is superb here and would qualify to demo your system with, assuming you have the system a large orchestral recording such as this requires.
As the record plays the top end extends and the space of the hall becomes more clear and 3-D.
The opening is exciting and sounds amazing on this copy — it doesn’t get any better than this folks!
The top is extremely open and clean yet the strings are never bright nor shrill. So transparent and spacious.
The last movement has some Wagnerian touches. The string tone of the lower strings is hard to fault, and the overall sound at the end is lively and exciting without ever crossing the line into hi-fi-ishness. This is the mark of an exceptionally good record!
It has taken us years of serious searching to come up with the pile of copies we were able to play in our shootout. To find a copy of this record in anything but beat condition has been difficult and time-consuming to say the least. The powerfully dynamic Hall of the Mountain King is at the end of side one and unless you have a very well-cared-for copy the inner groove distortion will be painful indeed.
By the way, none of the better copies in the shootout were quieter than this one. Mint Minus Minus is going to be as quiet as these pressings get.