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The Complete Aksel Schiøtz Recordings 1933-1946: Vol. 8
CD 1
Victor BENDIX (1851-1926)

Hvor tindrer nu min Stjerne (1)
Recorded November 17th 1939
Halfdan KJERULF (1815-1868)

Mit Hjerte og min Lyre (2)
Recorded December 30th 1939
Henrik RUNG (1807-1871) arr.

Paaskeklokken kimed’ mildt (Faroe melody) (3)
Recorded February 21st 1939
Peter HEISE (1830-1879)

Det var paa Isted-Hede (4), Sange af Shakespeare: Der var en Svend med sin Pigelil (It was a lover and his lass) (5), Dengang jeg var kun saa stor søm saa (When that I was and a little tiny boy) (6), Husker du i Høst (7), Over de høje fjelde (8), Aften på Loggiaen (9), Erotiske Digte af Emil Aarestrup: Til en Veninde (10), Skoveensomhed (11)
Recorded February 21st 1939 (4), May 12th 1938 (5-6), June 8th 1940 (7), May 23rd 1942 (8-11)
Thomas LAUB (1852-1927)

Aftensuk, Bag de fjerne bjergetinder (12), Aldrig, Herre, Du forglemme (13)
Recorded March 13th 1942
Knud Vad THOMSON (1905-1971)

Til Glæden (14)
Recorded May 22nd 1942
Jens BJERRE (1903-1986)

Til en ung mor (15)
Recorded May 22nd 1942
Otto MORTENSEN (1907-1986)

Min Skat (16), Sommervise (17)
Recorded February 4th 1943
Oluf RING (1884-1946)

Trækfuglene. Præludium (18), Hjemvee (19)
Recorded February 4th 1943
Aksel AGERBY (1889-1942)

Havren (20)
Recorded June 27th 1941

Jeg véd en urt (21), Vægtervers (22)
Recorded June 20th 1944
Laurids LAURIDSEN (1882-1945)

Syng om Fred (23)
Recorded June 20th 1944
Mogens BANG (b. 1914)

Herr, vort Herskab

Recorded June 20th 1944

Det haver så nyligen regent (25)
Recorded May 23rd 1946
Aksel Schiøtz (tenor), Herman D. Koppel (piano) (1-4, 7, 25), Chr. Christiansen (piano) (5-6), Folmer Jensen (piano) (8-11, 16-19), Grete Kordt (piano) (12-15), Holger Lund-Christiansen (piano) (20), Eyvind Møller (piano) (21-24), Male chorus (3)
Locations (presumably Danish) not given; dates as above
Original HMV recordings transferred at the Abbey Road Studios by Andrew Walter
CD 2
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Dichterliebe, op. 48 (1)
Recorded December 17th-21st 1942
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

To brune Øine op. 5/1 (2), Jeg elsker Dig op. 5/3 (3), Ved Ronderne op. 33/9 (4), Våren op. 33/2 (5), Udfarten op. 9/4 (6), Foraarsregn op. 49/6 (7), Vær hilset, I Damer op. 49/3 (8), En Digters sidste Sang op. 18/3 (9)
2-6 recorded February 17th 1943 (already included in Vol. 2), 7-9 recorded on wire in Copenhagen, transmitted by telephone to Oslo and broadcast by the NRK June 5th 1945
Finn HØFFDING (1899-1997)

"17. Mai 1940" (10)
As for 7-9 above
Christoph Ernst Friedrich WEYSE (1774-1842)

Altid freidig naar du gaar (11)
Mogens BANG (b. 1914)

Herre, vort Herskab (12)
11-12 Broadcast and recorded by the NRK, October 8th 1945
Niels GADE (1817-1890)

Aprilvise (13)
Johan Peter Emilius HARTMANN (1805-1900)

Til de Faldne (incomplete) (14)
Knudåge RIISAGER (1897-1974)

Danmarks Frihedssang (incomplete) (15)
13-15 Live on Danish Radio May 5th 1945
Aksel Schiøtz (tenor), Folmer Jensen (piano) (1-6), Kåre Siem (piano) (11-12). The pianists in 7-10 and 13-15 appear to be unknown
All except 2-6 published for the first time. Dates and locations (where known) as above
DANACORD DACOCD 458 [2 CDs: 70:09, 66:00]
Brief biographical notes on the great Danish tenor Aksel Schiøtz can be found in my review of Vol. 1.

Vol. 8 really takes up the story from Vol. 6, charting the development of Danish song in the romantic era, with Peter Heise the principal stopping point, and arriving at Nielsen’s colleague and contemporary Thomas Laub. It concludes with a further selection from the post-Nielsen era, some of them remakes of songs included in Vol. 7. Unlike the other volumes, this one contains two CDs. The second, unrelated to the other, contains a performance of Dichterliebe which was known to have been made but believed lost, plus some additional broadcast material. All of these finds were made after the original Schiøtz project had been planned. I shall deal with the discs separately.

CD 1

Victor Bendix was the father of the pianist Victor Schiøler, some of whose recordings can be heard on DANACORD DACOCD 491-2, including (see my review for further details) one of the finest versions of the Grieg concerto ever made. His song is warmly romantic, as is that by the Norwegian Kjerulf. Also attractive is the Rung arrangement, which includes a chorus.

It is with Peter Heise, however, that this series touches one of its high points. Already in the first song, though it retains the melodic simplicity and strophic form of Weyse and Hartmann, the vocal line is bold and free, and clearly intended for a solo singer. The Shakespeare songs have elaborate and exuberant piano parts and strong, memorable melodies. These could easily become favourite settings of these texts – except that they are in Danish! (But the Danish versions seem to be pretty close to Shakespeare’s original metres, so they could be sung in English with only the smallest adjustments). It becomes evident that Heise, like any other lieder composer of stature, does not hesitate to use a strophic form when the nature of the poem calls for it, but unlike Weyse and even Hartmann, his imagination does not seem constrained by his chosen form. How infinitely touching is the opening phrase of each stanza in Husker du when we have an Aksel Schiøtz to ring the changes of the seasons for us, and how thrilling is the leaping vocal line of Over de høje fjelde. And yet he is ready to blossom out into something more through-composed when necessary – hear the modulation which ushers in the third stanza of Aften paa Loggiaen or the way Til en Veninde builds up. Heise was a great admirer of Schumann and his music has a similar poetic glow to Schumann’s without really resembling it. Indeed, Til en Veninde seems to inhabit a half-way point between Schumann and Richard Strauss and anyone who feels that the German lied took, with Hugo Wolf, an unnecessarily complicated turn after Schumann should rejoice in Heise’s music. While it would be rash to judge the composer of some 300 songs on the strength of just 8 of them, the quality of these eight is so high as to make me wonder if Carl Nielsen was, in fact, Denmark’s first great composer. Certainly these songs deserve – no, demand – the attention of any singer specialising in lieder and willing to learn how to sing in Danish. This music should not be confined to Denmark!

An Internet search reveals that two records devoted to songs by Heise and Lange-Müller have been issued by DACAPO (CD 8 224033 and CD 8 224065), while Danacord themselves have a disc dedicated to "Songs and Romances" by Heise (DACOCD 446) and his only opera King and Marshall has been twice recorded, under Frandsen (Unicorn-Kanchana nla) and Schønwandt (Chandos CHAN 9143/5). To judge from the enthusiastic comments some of these discs have received, in Gramophone for example, my own reactions to this composer have been widely shared. Schiøtz’s performances are incomparable.

Thomas Laub’s two songs made no great impression, but I enjoyed hearing Thomson’s Til Glæden again. The 1939 recording included in Vol. 7 is sung a tone lower and I wonder why he chose the higher key in 1942. Not that it is a strain for him, but the earlier recording has an easy intimacy, Schiøtz apparently communing with himself, and this I ultimately prefer. The higher key leads him to project the voice more brightly and he may have found this more effective in the concert hall. Jens Bjerre’s Til en ung mor is a very attractive song in lullaby vein. Mortensen’s charming Min Skat is followed by a remakes of his Sommervise and of Ring’s Trækfuglene. Both of these are sung a tone higher than the previous versions (1938 and 1939 respectively) but, far from creating strain, Schiøtz was in particularly good voice in the 1943 sessions and presents the songs with considerably more flexibility than before. Another remake is Agerby’s Havren. In this case the key has remained the same. However, the 1939 recording has the historical advantage of the composer’s presence at the piano. He takes a more leisurely tempo (03:23 against 02:33) which perhaps gives Schiøtz the time to find more in it, though there is something to be said for the more lilting later version too.

The final three songs are moving for reasons which go beyond the records in themselves. The texts to Syng om Fred and Herre, vort Herskab are by Kaj Munk (1896-1944), a vicar and playwright who was outspoken in his condemnation of the occupying Nazis and their collaborators; inevitably his stance led to his being murdered by a death patrol and dumped in a ditch. Readings of Munk’s words were forbidden, but this did not stop Schiøtz from singing at his funeral and recording these two pieces, one of which he later sang also for Norwegian Radio (see CD 2). The music is not especially distinguished but Schiøtz’s emotion can be felt.

The CD closes with Schiøtz’s last recording before the operation which was virtually to end his career. He is in fine voice, his vocal chords apparently untouched by the tumour which was threatening them.

CD 2

In 1943 the Danish people had no wish to buy German lieder so the Dichterliebe was set on one side, its unlabelled copper matrices ending up in an obscure corner of the Nationaldiskoteket, Aarhus without anyone knowing what they were, or apparently caring to investigate, until Mr Claus Byrith, one of the supporters of the Schiøtz project, had a hunch that they might be the long-lost Dichterliebe. The possibility to transfer directly from copper masters in virgin state has meant that this recording has actually much quieter surfaces than the 1946 one, just a slight background swish at times. The sound is a little more backward but the voice is well caught and the piano mellow. It was a very good recording indeed for its date.

Folmer Jensen is by no means always outshone by his more famous colleague. At the beginning he establishes himself as a poet, evoking a rapt, star struck atmosphere where Gerald Moore is a little more matter-of-fact. Even the more distant sound lends its own enchantment and initially I preferred this version. However, Moore’s richer sound better evokes the cathedral in Im Rhein and here Jensen smoothes out the rhythm to a slack 6/8. Moore plays the rhythm correctly but even he does not give us the sense of Schumann’s two-note groupings. The problem is that the modern pianist and listener, all too aware that Schumann is alluding to a particular type of baroque organ music, would be tempted to double-dot, and of course Schumann did not write this either. Very strangely, Moore interprets Schumann’s diminuendo after the singer’s last note as a crescendo, which is not exactly the same thing. Jensen makes neither one nor the other but at least he gives us the sense that the cathedral vision suddenly returns, as marked. Moore’s more full-toned support in Ich grolle nicht is wonderful, but against this Schiøtz in 1943 thrillingly essayed the higher alternative notes towards the end, which he did not in 1946.

It now becomes apparent that, good as Jensen is, Moore is rightly remembered as a great pianist because he had a wider range of tone and colours available. His unpedalled texture in Und wüssten’s die Blumen, compared with Jensen’s more conventionally pedalled one, does not seem dry, it fills the air with a myriad of fantastic sounds. The poet in him rises in Hör’ ich das Liedchen klingen where he brings out the hidden melodies more beautifully and, in spite of his more closely recorded piano, he is more dreamily distant in Allnächtlisch im Traume. But Jensen has his moments of perception too, as in the postlude to Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen where he makes us hear the bass line better, and therefore lets us perceive that the melodic line is syncopated.

As for Schiøtz, he is very consistent, but there are moments when we realise that he has gained experience and maturity in the intervening years. Experience in that, where Schumann expects the singer to place a mouthful of words in a short phrase, he is even more natural in 1946. By careful timing, he is also more effective in Schumann’s baritonal descents to a low B flat. And maturity in the added expressiveness he gives to certain phrases, such as the last part of Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet, or the last phrase in the cycle, which he draws out without recourse to sentimentality. I think the 1946 performance is marginally superior, but leaving aside song-by-song comparisons the more pastel-coloured 1943 version has its own character and I shall return gratefully to both. The 1946 recording has always enjoyed the reputation of being among the finest ever made; if, instead of remaking the cycle, HMV had simply issued the 1943 one, I suggest that its reputation would have been just as great.

The five Grieg songs with Jensen are repeated here from Vol. 2 so that we can hear the sequence of eight complete. The three that follow, sung in Danish, were recorded again with Gerald Moore in 1946 (see Vol. 3). Considering their provenance the sound is not at all bad, but it would be idle to pretend that the voice is not better caught in the London recording, and better balanced with the piano. Since Schiøtz is also in more effortful voice in the broadcast recording and the anonymous pianist is less adept than Moore in Grieg’s often elaborate writing this has to be for completists. The beauty of the op. 49 songs still comes across, though.

The pair from October 1945 gives us a Weyse song not found elsewhere and a version of one of the Munk settings in which the voice is in less fluid shape than it was for the 1944 recording. The final three items were recorded off the air on someone’s private acetates. In the case of Hartmann’s "To the fallen", which is cut off during the second stanza, and Riisager’s "Denmark’s Freedom Song", which begins halfway through the first stanza, it is hardly worth while persevering with the very heavy surfaces and dim sound (the piano is very backward). Complete versions of these songs are to be found in Vols. 5 and 9 respectively. However, the sound is not so bad that we need not be grateful for a charming Gade song (complete) not otherwise recorded by Schiøtz; together with those in Vol. 6 it reinforces our impression that the songs of this composer deserve investigation.

This double volume is indispensable for the Heise songs, which should be known by all who care about lieder and lieder-related compositions. And, while I would not recommend this Dichterliebe in preference to the 1946 one, I do feel that nobody could regret having both of them.

Christopher Howell

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