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Svend NIELSEN (b. 1937)
Sommerfugledalen, Et Requiem - (Butterfly Valley, a Requiem) for 12 solo singers (1998/2004) [58:25]
Inger Christensen (b. 1935) reads Sommerfugledalen (1991) [14:10]
Ars Nova Copenhagen/Tamás Vetö
rec. Mariendal Kirke, June 2006
DACAPO 8.224706 [62:35]

 


 

 


Svend Nielsen has long been an important figure in Danish music. He has been a teacher in music theory at the Royal Academy of Music in Århus for the last 30 years, and has written an impressive body of work in the Romantic-Impressionist tradition. As a composer he balances between the lyrical and the succinct. This CD features Svend Nielsen’s most extensive vocal work, indeed, his longest ever composition; Butterfly Valley, based on a sonnet cycle by the Danish poet Inger Christensen.

Inger Christensen has been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature on a number of occasions. Sommerfugledalen is described as her mature masterpiece, and has a place in the Ministry of Culture’s list of the twelve most important Danish works of poetry. The work is a sonnet cycle in a strict form of 14 sonnets, each with 14 lines. The subtitle ‘A Requiem’ was given to the work by the author, as she describes the cycle as a gradual coming of awareness to the presence of death. Svend Nielsen worked on his setting for six years, collaborating closely with Ars Nova, without whom the work could not have been realized.

Ars Nova has an excellent pedigree in Renaissance music as well as contemporary works, and their principal conductor since 2002 has been Paul Hillier. As you might expect, their performance is needle sharp when it comes to articulation, tuning and expression. The music dips and yaws with the content of the texts, sometimes gathering into more conventional chords from free sounding clusters and glissandi – always a tough technical challenge for an a capella group. Most distinctive are the upper voices, which chime through the textures and echo each other through the musical spaces created by Nielsen. The texts are of course sung in Danish, but the booklet has full English translations, and it is fascinating to follow the composer’s interpretations. There are also pretty photos of all of the butterflies.

This is a genuinely fine work of art. Do not be put off by the pinky cover, but also don’t be lulled into thinking this will be easy going music; or the kind of sentimental stuff your mother-in-law will like because she has a buddleia in the garden. Yes, it’s arguably over-long and static in places, but the grand sense of space and development certainly gives the lie to any stereotypes you might have held about music on the subject of butterflies. The beautiful passages equal out any ‘difficult’ effects or dissonances, but at nearly an hour it always was going to be a serious proposition. Inger Christensen’s monochromatic reading of her own poems is a lullaby in its own right, especially if, like me, your Danish is weaker than absent.

Dominy Clements

 

 

 


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