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Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)

Musik tilfem digte, Opus 4 (1891)
Viser og vers, Opus 6 (1891)
Sange, Opus 10 (1894)
Tit er jeg glad (1917)
Saenk kun dit hoved, Opus 21 (1907)
Solen skinner (1916)
Nu lyser lív I lunde (1921)
Undelige aftenlufte! (1915)
Italiensk hyrdearie, Opus 54 (1930)
Duet fra Maskarade (1906)
Inger Dam-Jensen (soprano), Morten Ernst Lassen (baritone)
Ulrich Staerk (piano)
Rec. 4-6 Feb 2002, Royal Library, Diamanten
DACAPO 8.224218 [57.11]

Carl Nielsen is now well established as a composer of major international significance. However, there are some aspects of his art, and in particular his songs, which do not travel so well as his larger orchestral works. The reason for this seeming imbalance is not hard to understand: it is that Danish is not among the international languages of music, and singers find it difficult to grasp. Nor do songs take readily to translation, with the best will in the world.

This makes the present disc the more useful as an addition to the catalogue. For song writing formed an important aspect of Nielsen's creative work and engaged him at every stage of his life. A pleasing feature of this well planned recital is the way that the repertoire takes this range into account.

The package is beautifully presented, with a well planned booklet attached to the box, and there are full texts and translation (Danish-English) printed in very clear type.

It is often the case that a distinctive national musical style relies upon folksong, and the freshness of Nielsen's songs forms a central feature of his approach. This is not to suggest, however, that the folk song style was the only important part of his work as a song composer. As a young man, for example, he made a close study of the songs of Brahms, and it shows. The first items in this collection, his Opus 4 group of five songs to words by the contemporary poet Jacobsen, resulted from this enthusiasm. Several of them were composed while he was on his honeymoon in Italy, and he goes out of his way to relate closely to the texts. The clear focus of the recorded sound is a feature of this collection, so too the enunciation of both the singers.

Directness and simplicity of style numbers among Nielsen's priorities, and both Inger Dam-Jensen and Morten Ernst Lassen respond to the music's freshness with much sensitivity. Nowhere, surely, can this be better experienced than in the final item in this sequence, the duet Min síde balsambísse, a song taken in 1906 from the comic opera Maskarade. The whole number is pure delight, including the pacing and delivery of Ulrich Staerk's piano accompaniment.

If there is a weakness, or rather a danger for the unwary listener, it is that an unbroken hour of Nielsen's songs may lack the variety to sustain its presence. But group the songs in shorter sequences and the results are quite different. They can be most uplifting, even from relatively early in his career. For a pair of real gems, try two contrasting numbers (one soprano, one baritone) from the Opus 6 songs, also to words by Jacobsen: Silken Shoes (Track 8) and An Age of Regret (Track 9).

Terry Barfoot

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