Mischievous imaginary creatures populate the folklore of Norway, and they loom large in the music of Edvard Grieg, whose home was even named “Troldhaugen (Troll Hill).” From “Peer Gynt,” with its spooky “Mountain King” music, to the “Elves Dance” in Grieg’s “Lyric Pieces,” the composer drew on Norse folklore and folk melodies for his piano tunes, and even the majestic A minor concerto, probably his most famous work.
The opening seconds of the A minor concerto are probably some of the most recognizable in all of classical music. But even beyond that opening flourish, there lies rewards for the listener in the stately, almost hymn-like second movement, and the grand finale of the third, which brings the concerto full circle and incorporates rhythms reminiscent of the Norwegian halling dance. Ott doesn’t pound the keys, so if you’re in need of a flashy performance, look elsewhere. I particularly liked the second movement, as Ott and the orchestra embrace one another on an even level.
Of the dozen Lyric Pieces and excerpts from “Peer Gynt,” you might recognize several melodies from their use in popular culture, from the aforementioned “In The Hall of the Mountain King” to “March of the Trolls,” which gets trotted out around Halloween and makes an appearance in Walt Disney’s first Silly Symphony, “The Skeleton Dance.” Here, Ott turns the march into more of a stampede, taking the tempo too fast for my taste. But I loved the dance-like “Once Upon a Time” and the stately yet joyous “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen,” written by Grieg for his 25th wedding anniversary. Alice Sara Ott’s “Wonderland” is a rabbit hole worth falling down.