Allmänna Sången, the Uppsala Student Choir, has a history going
back more than 175 years. It started in 1830, then as a male choir.
It was not until 1963 that it was reorganized into a mixed choir.
It has however been a central part of music life in Uppsala for
many decades and several important musicians have been involved
with it. The most famous is perhaps composer Hugo Alfvén, who
was conductor for more than a decade just after WW2. Cecilia Rydinger
Alin, has been conductor and artistic leader of the choir since
1988. Since autumn 2008 she has held the same position in the
male choir Orphei Drängar, also in Uppsala.
The present disc
is a kind of juxtaposition between the old and the new in
Swedish choral music. Here are some of the leading composers
born in the 1950s, side by side with established masters from
the 19th century. But even their works are presented
in a new light – more about that in a while. There are also
several examples of songs and tunes from the Swedish folk
music treasury chest, smartened up with modern clothes – but
the folksy origin is clear enough.
of Motor Bike Concerto fame – not to mixed up with
Sven David Sandström, whose opera Batseba was premiered
just before Christmas (see review)
– has gone back to the old Lappish culture in Northern Sweden
and their yoiks. These are songs of ancient origin and are
used to express feelings about specific situations. They relate
to experiences, things, animals and people and phenomena in
natural or spiritual worlds. Often they are built on short
motifs that are repeated - the range is limited, seldom more
than a sixth. On the other hand the rhythms are well developed
and differentiated. The best known example of yoiks being
employed in art music is probably Wilhelm Peterson-Berger’s
Symphony No. 3 Same Ätnam. Sandström’s piece focuses
on the rhythmic and repetitive elements and is a fascinating
study in minimalism.
Ljusfälten, a setting of a poem by the Finland-Swedish
poet Edit Södergran, is exactly what the title, The Fields
of Light, says. Thus we catch a sense of shimmering lights
in an immobile landscape. The poem speaks of ‘powers’, ‘Earth’s
stormy night’ and ‘Unyielding my power waits’ yet the music
describes the inner landscape of the poet: ‘My bright horizons
stand / above Earth’s stormy night’. It is an evocative composition,
just one and a half minutes long. I himmelen, is a
hymn from the Swedish hymn-book. It opens with a fluent solo
improvisation on the melody. It is followed by something reminiscent
of kulning, the old herds-maids’ way of communicating
with their friends at distant chalets as well as with their
cattle. It entails the use of high-pitched, vibrato-less tones
of a penetrating quality. Gradually the choir joins in but
the kulning is retained above the chorus as a descant.
Anders Widmark’s piano is woven into the fabric.
Then follow two
polskor. Polska has been a popular dance-form among the country-people
for many years and exists in many variants. It is usually
in ¾-time. Its origin is supposed to be Polish. These two
are strongly contrasted. Ale Möller’s – he is one of the leading
exponents of folk music in Sweden – Glaspolska is slow
and gently rocking, The traditional Slängpolska – ‘slänga’
meaning ‘throw’ – is fast and lively.
Most Swedish choir-singers
are familiar with Stenhammar’s Three Choral Pieces,
settings of poems by Danish J P Jacobsen. Here they are performed
practically straight by the choir but to this is added Anders
Widmark’s inventive and pliable improvisations. Not always
does he stick to the mood and atmosphere of the original but
sails away on a contrapuntal road of his own. The third piece,
Havde jeg, o havde jeg en Dattersøn, becomes a swinging
march in his reading – and it works well with the choral setting.
The only notable change of the original is that note values
are altered: short chords instead of long, unbroken lines.
Liljekonvalje is another classic and it is performed just
as written: Nordic choir-singing at its best. The traditional
Slåttervisa with fine solo singing by Per Wickström
is a rhythmically fresh version with a kind of outdoor atmosphere.
Anders Hillborg has chosen a well-known Swedish song as the
cantus firmus, sung with extremely long note-values.
The rest of the choir surround it with cluster-like chords
and heart-rending shrieks. This makes Leif Hasselgren in his
booklet notes think of ‘the rueful aftermath of the midsummer
festivities complete with the soprano voices illustrating
a flight of wild birds crossing the empty morning sky´ - a
och syren is one of the most beloved spring songs in Sweden.
It is always sung on the last of April in front of the bonfires
that are lit all over the country to celebrate Spring’s defeat
of the long Winter. It here becomes a free piano improvisation
of immense beauty. Alfvén’s choral master-piece Aftonen
maybe loses something of the contemplative mood and nobility
but , thanks to Widmark’s extemporisation, gains life and
Lindblad was one of the foremost Swedish composers during
the mid-19th century. He wrote two symphonies,
an opera and lots of chamber music. In those days however,
his fame rested primarily on his more than 200 songs. Several
of these are still sung. The choral piece on this disc is
from a song-cycle for mixed choir and piano. It is a beautiful
piece of music in the prevalent Central European mould of
Wedding Song, arranged by another important figure
on the Swedish folk-music scene, Lena Willemark, makes for
a captivating return to the rural tradition. Here, though,
the frieze costumes are exchanged for modern wash-and-wear
are beyond reproach. Readers with an interest in choral music
at large or Swedish music in general and with a taste for
something spicier than usual will have their fill. New wine
in old bottles – and already matured.