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Engel Lundís Book of Folk Songs
See end of review for full contents and performers [88:45]
Lieder Theatre London/Norbert Meyn
recording date and place not stated
texts and singing translations included
NIMBUS RECORDS NI 5813/14 [45:52+42:53]

Engel Lund was a singer, born in Reykjavik in 1902. She sang all over Europe and the United States before returning to Iceland for her final years and died a month before her 96th birthday. Her particular interest was in folk song. Helped by her accompanist Ferdinand Reuter she produced a book of folk songs in the 1930s, partly to show their belief in the power of music as a beneficial influence bringing people together. The present recording is said to be its first complete recording.

Nowadays, except where the arrangements are by composers with a reputation in the wider musical world, such as Britten, Grainger or Brahms, there is some suspicion of the results when singers with "trained" voices sing folk songs, especially if the accompanying instrument is the piano. This is understandable, and it is true that the actual sound of these songs is likely to bear little resemblance to that of the "folk" from whom many of these songs were collected. But to deny ourselves the pleasure of hearing them would be foolish. Their existence does not threaten the existence of the original songs, and they are presented with such skill and sensitivity that almost all of the songs have a distinctive and interesting flavour of their own. I would not want to exaggerate their musical value, but in general Rauterís accompaniments are very carefully devised to demonstrate the individual character of each song without drawing too much attention away from the singer.

I suspect that any performance of some of these songs would be enjoyable, but Lieder Theatre London have hit on the ingenious idea of splitting them between no less than fourteen singers. All appear from the photographs and their singing to be young, and for the most part they sing songs in their own languages. The final song - the only one from England Ė is the exception being sung by a group of singers, only one of whom appears to have English as their first language. There are songs in the various Scandinavian languages, in Yiddish, German, French and so on. The varied sounds of the languages, especially when they are as well articulated as they are here, are a major feature here, and their wonderful mixture of flavours gives great delight in itself in these generally fresh and well projected performances. The pianists are all excellent, doing all they can to provide variety within the generally simple strophic accompaniments.

I have been unable to locate a copy of the original book, so that I am unclear as to whether the order on these discs has been altered. The recording results from a concert version first performed at the Austrian Embassy in London, and certainly even given the involvement of so many singers and pianists the sequence is clearly devised to be a coherent as a whole. I had no difficulty in listening to the two discs in succession with no sense of monotony. Various themes emerge gradually, including love, animals and death, but these are not hammered home. Instead there is a growing feeling of common concerns being raised in different ways but of a common underlying humanity. The opening sequence of Scandinavian songs demonstrates this best. The languages and cut of the tunes is clearly different and yet in a way these very differences demonstrate what they have in common. I suspect that the implicit messages these discs give to anyone listening to them with care are worth any amount of formal "diversity training". Perhaps they should be made compulsory listening in schools and, even more, by politicians.

The original texts are printed in the booklet, together with brief notes on each song and what are clearly singing translations Ė often very ingenious and not too far from the originals of those languages that I could follow. There are also photographs of most of the artists and of Engel Lund and Ferdinand Rauter. Curiously no timings are given of individual songs and no indication of where or when they were recorded. The total length of the two discs is little more than could have been put onto one, and many potential purchasers may wish that either a couple of songs had been omitted to do that, or that additional material had been added. One obvious candidate would have been examples of Engle Lundís own singing of these songs, recordings of which presumably do exist. I would not want to make too much of these points, however What matters is the sheer enjoyment that these discs give and the pleasure in a diversity of language which only partly conceals a common underlying humanity. A perfect present at any time of year.

John Sheppard

Full contents:

1 Stódum tvau í túni (Iceland) [1:14]
2 Hjuringsvisa (Herdmaid's Song) (Norway) [1:05]
3 Stev fra telemarken (Love Lament from Telemarken) (Norway) [1:36]
4 Paal paa haugen (Paul and the Hen) (Norway) [1:07]
5 Kristallen den fina (Like a Crystal so fine) (Sweden) [1:59]
6 Brudstassen (The Wedding Array) (Sweden) [1:57]
7 Stor Ola, lill' Ola (Big Ola, dear Ola) (Sweden) [0:52]
8 Lammen har jag (Lambs have I) (Sweden) [0:52]
9 Langt udi skoven (The Tree in the Forest) (Denmark) [1:21]
10 Roselil og hendes moder (Rosalil and her Mother) (Denmark) [4:02]
11 De tolv hellige ting (The twelve holy Things) (Denmark) [1:07]
12 Es isch kei söliger Stamme (No Race there is to vie) (Switzerland) [0:54]
13 Kuhreigen (Alpine Cowherd Song) (Switzerland) [0:44]
14 Es kam ein Herr zum Schloessli (To a little Castle there came a Knight) (Switzerland) [1:02]
15 Arum di Lichtelach (Around the Candles) (Yiddish) [2:09]
16 Pinchosl un Chantschele (Pinchossel and Hannah) (Yiddish) [1:27]
17 Die choissid beim bojn di suke (The pious Jew builds his Booth) (Yiddish) [1:04]
18 Ai ai, der rebe geit (Ay, ay, the Rabbi's here) (Yiddish) [1:39]
19 Sinner Man (Appalachian, USA) [3:20]
20 Counting Song (Appalachian, USA) [1:49]
21 Der schwere Traum (The heavy Dream) (Germany) [1:55]
22 Nachtwächterlied (Song of the Night Watchman) (Germany) [2:55]
23 Fünf Söhne (The Fate of the Five Sons) (Germany) [2:49]
24 Die Vogelhochzeit (The Wedding of the Birds) (Germany) [2:39]
25 Maria durch ein Dornwald ging (Sweet Mary through a Thorn Grove did go) (Germany) [1:46]
26 Nattergalen (The Nightingale) (Denmark) [1:55]
27 Det haver saa nyligen regnet (Tonight it has just stopped raining) (Denmark) [1:56]
28 Munken gaar i Enge (The Monk in the Meadow) (Denmark) [1:22]
29 Naa ska'en liten faa sova saa södt (The Cradle is ready) (Norway) [2:06]
30 Eg heiter Anne Knutsdatter (My Name is Annie Campbell) (Norway) [2:25]
31 Uti vår hage (Out in the Garden) (Sweden) [2:15]
32 Näfvervisen (The Birchbark Song) (Sweden) [1:36]
33 Litlu börnin leika sjer (Little Children run to play) (Iceland) [1:09]
34 Bi bi og blaka (Bye Bye and Hushabye) (Iceland) [1:19]
35 Di alte kasche (The old Riddle) (Yiddish) [1:16]
36 As ech wolt gehat dem Kaissres oizress (Had I all the Emperor's Riches) (Yiddish) [2:29]
37 Du solst nit gein (You shall not walk) (Yiddish) [1:09]
38 Guignolot de St. Lazot (The Feast of St. Lazarus) (France) [1:44]
39 Noël Provençal (Carol) (France) [2:02]
40 Ah, Lambert (Ah, Lambert) (Belgium) [2:00]
41 Jesuken en Janneken (Little Jesus and St. John) (Holland) [2:33]
42 Andulicko Moje (Mary Ann, my Pretty) (Czech Republic) [0:38]
43 Tenkrate Bude Victoria (Then rise to Victory) (Czech Republic) (1:23)
44 Es geht eine dunkle Wolk herein (The heavy Clouds blow up again) (Germany) [1:33]
45 Wiegenlied (Cradle Song) (Germany) [0:39]
46 Die zwei Rosen (The two Roses) (Austria) [1:01]
47 Heute bin ich rot (Today my Blood runs red) (Austria) [2:01]
48 Hold on (Kentucky, USA) [3:13]
49 The Derby Ram (England) [2:10]

Sigridur Osk Kristjansdottir (mezzo), Ouri Bronchti (piano) (1,33,34)
Randi Synnøve Røssaak (soprano), James Southall (piano) (2,3,4,29,30)
Håkan Ekenäs (baritone), Ouri Bronchti (piano) (5,7,8,31)
Anna Grevelius (mezzo), Ouri Bronchti (piano) (6,32),
Jasia Julia Nielsen (mezzo), James Southall (piano) (9,10,11,26,27,28)
Benno Widmer, tenor, James Southall (piano) (12,13,14)
Revital Raviv (soprano), Ouri Bronchti (piano) (15,17,18,35,36,)
Tania Mandzy (mezzo), Ouri Bronchti (piano) (19,48)
Tania Mandzy (mezzo), Jasia Julia Nielsen (mezzo), James Southall (piano) (20)
Daniela Lehner (mezzo), Kathron Sturrock (piano) (21,23,26,44,45,46,47)
Norbert Meyn, tenor, James Southall (piano) (22,24,)
Sophie Angebault (soprano), Ouri Bronchti (piano) (38,39,40)
Madeleen Ijsselmuiden (mezzo), James Southall (piano) (41)
Vojtech Safarík (bass-baritone), Ouri Bronchti (piano) (42,43)
Sigridur Osk Kristjansdottir (mezzo), Norbert Meyn (tenor), Andrea Rauter, Revital Raviv (soprano), Simon Wallfisch (baritone), Benno Widmer (tenor), James Southall (piano) (49)


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