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Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960)
Works for mixed choir a cappella
Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble/Erik Westberg
rec. 2022, Studio Acusticum, Piteå, Sweden
Sung texts with English translations enclosed

This disc, issued to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Hugo Alfvén, was for me a trip down Memory Lane and a voyage of discovery. As an avid choral singer since my mid-twenties – both in mixed choirs and male choirs – I have been singing many of these songs in both capacities. Alfvén very often composed or arranged his songs for both types of choirs, since for many years he led his mixed Siljan Choir in the Province of Dalecarlia, where in time he settled permanently and, as Director Musices at Uppsala University, led two men's choirs weekly. For Swedish choirs, Alfvén’s songs are the bread and butter of the repertoire, and most choral singers with some experience know them by heart.

All the goodies are here, Papillon, Stemning, Aftonen and the ever popular folk song adaptations, of which Uti vår hage is the one everyone knows. The light and airy Papillon also lends its name to the whole collection and is on the cover image illustrated by the Common Brimstone, which was in 2022 voted Sweden’s national butterfly. Stemning, one of the noblest choral compositions that I know, is a setting of a Danish text, written first for male choir and then for mixed choir, but it also exists in a version for string orchestra with choir ad libitum. Aftonen, on the other hand, was first written for mixed choir and is dedicated to the Siljan Choir and probably premiered by them. The nocturnal atmosphere is so marvellously tangible, and anyone who has ever walked in the Swedish woods at sunset will feel at home.

A similar atmosphere also reigns in the little herding song Limu, limu, lima, arranged by Alfvén as early as 1923 for Leksands hembygdskör, a predecessor to the Siljan Choir. Also Som stjärnan uppå himmelen så klar is in the same vein. It was arranged as late as 1952 for the Siljan Choir by an 80-year-old Hugo Alfvén, beautiful and simple with solo soprano accompanied con bocca chiusa by the choir. Terese Antonsson is the excellent soloist, as she is in a couple of other songs. Several of the other folk songs are dances, lively and sometimes burlesque. And the highlight is probably the concluding number of the programme, Och jungfrun hon går i ringen with a dramatic crescendo towards the end, where there is contrapuntal shooting with fifteen shotguns in the last stanza. A riveting finale! Even for readers with little or no connections with Alfvén’s music – or Swedish music on the whole – all these pieces should be easily appreciated, irrespective of nationality, and the excellent liner notes are also helpful.

But for me this was also a voyage of discovery, insofar as there are no less than six World Premiere Recordings. Something of a curiosity is En visa om Barnens Ö. In 1923 Alfvén got a commission to write a choral piece for Children’s Day, an activity to get funds for summer camp activities in the archipelago outside Stockholm. Uniquely he wrote it for children’s choir and men’s choir. It is a beautiful piece, simple but melodious. The ladies of the vocal ensemble sing the children’s parts on their own and are then joined by the men.

Taltrasten is a setting of a poem by the Dalecarlian poet Kerstin Hed. This folk music inspired song depicts the song thrush, which in Ms Hed’s words is “our local nightingale”. A charming song.

Julhymn (Christmas Hymn) was composed in 1909, but it is based on a solo song that Alfvén wrote the previous year. It is not known whether he intended to rework it to a choral piece from the beginning. To me it seems to be a valuable addition to the Christmas repertoire.

Klang, min vackra bjällra is a well-known song with text by Zacharias Topelius, who wrote the text to a folk song, which Johan Fredrik Berwald, cousin of Franz, had used in a play.

Herr Olof i älvornas dans is a medieval ballad, that Alfvén found in the collection “Swedish Folk Songs from Ancient Times.” From the same collection is also Duvans sång på liljekvist, beautifully sung by Terese Antonsson, who also, together with Andreas E. Olsson, is soloist in Vedergällningen, again from this collection. It has obviously been recorded before, but was unknown to me.

Throughout the singing of Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble is superb with pinpoint intonation and a flair for the rhythmic felicities in the dance oriented songs. The mix of all the best of Alfvén’s standard works and a good handful of premiere recordings, should make this disc an obligatory buy for general music lovers and specialist trainspotters alike. A very desirable tribute to the Alfvén celebrations.

Göran Forsling

1. Papillon (Butterfly) [2:26]
2. Stemning (Mood) [1:58]
3. En visa om Barnens Ö på Barnens Dag (A Song of the Youngster’s Island)* [3:36]
4. Taltrasten (The Song Thrush)* [3:02]
5. Anders, han var en hurtiger dräng (Andrew Was a Lively Lad) [1:22]
6. Julhymn (Christmas Hymn)* [2:41]
7. Klang min vackra bjällra (Chime, my Bonny Bell)* [1:43]
8. Julsång (Star of Christmas) [3:28]
9. Som stjärnan uppå himmelen så klar (Like the Star) [1:42]
10. Herr Olof i älvornas dans (Young Olof and the Dance of the Fairies)* [1:13]
Soprano Solo: Terese Antonsson
11. Tjuv och tjuv, det ska du heta (Big ol’ Thief) [1:33]
12. Duvans sång på liljekvist (The Song of the Dove) (*) [4:04]
Soprano Solo: Terese Antonsson
13. Vallvisa från Älvdalen; Limu, limu, lima (Shepherd Song) [1:22]
14. Uti vår hage (In Our Meadow) [2:17]
15. Rosor och violer (Roses and Violets) [1:50]
16. Å inte vill jag sörja (I do not want to mourn) [1:05]
17. Vedergällningen (The Accolade) [3:00]
Soprano Solo: Terese Antonsson
Baritone Solo: Andreas E. Olsson
18. Vaggvisa (Lullaby) [3:01]
19. Aftonen (The Evening) [3:50]
20. Och jungfrun hon går I ringen (The Lass Dances in a Circle [1:36]

Published: November 23, 2022

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