Gather together Norway’s most famous cultural figures from the past 200 years, and you won’t, in all honesty, have a huge crowd. There’s the painter Edvard Munch, of course, as well as the composer Edvard Grieg, the playwright Henrik Ibsen and (stretching a bit) the 19th century violinist Ole Bull. But what they lack in numbers they make up for in brilliance, and the work of all four was brought together for a fascinating concert at the National Gallery of Art on Sunday night, to launch the 150th anniversary celebration of Munch’s birth.
Much of the evening was devoted, as you might expect, to Grieg. Soprano Tone Elisabeth Braaten sang five of the composer’s relentlessly lovely songs, from “En Fuglevise” (A Birdsong), with its playful, beguiling lyrics by Ibsen, to the much-loved “Solveig’s Song” from “Peer Gynt.” Braaten has a clear if not particularly big voice — more human-scaled than operatic — and she probed into the music with thoughtfulness and style, accompanied in turns by Stephen Ackert at the piano and members of the National Gallery of Art Orchestra. The fine Norwegian violinist Per Kristian Skalstad gave a heartfelt reading of Ole Bull’s richly romantic “Afsked” (Farewell) — a work sketched on a napkin and forgotten for 50 years before being resurrected — and led the orchestra in a delicate and wonderfully detailed account of Grieg’s famous “Anitra’s Dance.”