> August Enna - The Little Match Girl [GPJ]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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August ENNA (1860-1939)
The Little Match Girl (1897)
The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweep (1900)
Henriette Bonde-Hansen, soprano
Gitta-Maria Sjöberg, soprano
Fritz Helmuth, narrator
Sokkelund Sangkor
Danish Radio Girls’ Choir
Danish Radio Sinfonietta/Roman Zeilinger
Recorded November 1998, January 2000
CPO CPO999 595-2 [64:18]


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August Enna was a Danish composer by birth, though his family were from the Sicilian town of Enna. By a curious set of circumstances, his grandfather ended up in Lolland, Denmark, after the battle of Waterloo; one of his sons became a cobbler there, and in turn fathered August. Like so many of his generation, he came strongly under the influence of Wagner, and you can sense that in many parts of the works on this disc (a single disc, by the way, even though, curiously, CPO have packaged it in a box, presumably to deal with the reasonably large booklet.)

Enna’s music, particularly the opera recorded here, Den lille pige med svovlstikkerne, or ‘The Little Match Girl’, is held in affectionate regard in Denmark, and it’s not hard to understand why. The orchestration is attractive, there is an easy tunefulness about the music, and the expression is straightforward, sincere, not overdoing the sentimentality that could ruin the affecting little Christmas story. Some of the choral sections, with their bright, folksy rhythms, may well have influenced Carl Nielsen, in works such as Springtime in Fynen.

The action of The Little Match Girl takes place on a snowy Christmas Eve, and the central character is Marie, a young girl who tries to earn her living by selling matches. No-one will buy them, however, and she is forced to burn her matches one by one to give herself a little warmth, until the last match is gone and she dies.

Henriette Bonde-Hansen is wonderful as the Little Match Girl. She uses all her artistry and the resources of her very fine voice to bring out the pathos, and is very touching in the girl’s death song on track 11. However, the music itself is very limited, and Enna seems afraid of challenging his audience with anything too complex or powerfully expressed. The overall effect is insipid and conservative, despite the music’s prettiness.

The ballet music for The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweep occupies the final five tracks of the disc. The recording includes the voice of the Danish actor Frits Helmuth telling the tale, which concerns two pieces of porcelain – the said Shepherdess and Chimney-Sweep – and their love for one another. The story (which is by Hans Christian Anderson, as is The Little Match Girl) is whimsical, with lots of opportunities for characterisation and humour, but you have to feel that Enna’s music is very dull and disappointing. It never seems to get going, and suffers from the same slightly apologetic tone that is found in the opera. Again, there is very little of any substance here.

Bonde-Hansen’s contribution is well worth listening to; but other than that, it’s hard to feel much enthusiasm for this issue, I’m afraid, especially as the orchestral playing by the Danish Radio Sinfonietta is lack-lustre and occasionally downright scrappy, particularly in the violins.


Gwyn Parry-Jones

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