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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Gösta NYSTROEM (1890-1966)
Songs

Sånger vid havet [Ute i skären [Ebba Lindkvist], Nocturne [Edith Södergren], Havets visa [Hjalmar Gullberg], Jag harr ett hem vid havet [Ragnar Jäandel], Jag väntar månen [Hjalmar Gullberg]] (1943)
Hjärtat [Bo Bergman] (1916)
Ord mot det tomma [Bertil Malmberg] (1916)
Ur Ångest - Åtta dikter [Pär Lagerkvist] (1923-8)
Bön [Anders Österling] (1927)
Kärlekens visa [Pär Lagerkvist] (1942)
Att älska i vårens tid [Mogens Lorentzen sv. Gösta Rybrandt] (1949)
Gubben och gumman skulle mota vall [trad] (1927)
Det satt en katt vid Kattegatt [Anna-Maria Roos] (1946)
Själ och landskap (Nya sånger vid havet) [Ebba Lindkvist] [Vitt land, Önskan, Bara hos den] (1950)
Andakt [Jeanna Otterdahl] (1914)
Nocturne [Anders Österling] (1924)
Charlotte Hellekant (mezzo-sop)
Ander Kilström (piano)
rec Berwaldhallen, 2-3 May, 3 Sept, and Swedish Radio studio 2, 3 Oct, 2001
DAPHNE 1017 [70.54]

Daphne


The picture at the back of the CD booklet is an oil painting by Nystroem entitled ‘Nina’ c.1917. It perhaps demonstrates an artist for whom painting was not a primary source of expression, as it has certain slightly primitivist features: a girl with long hair and a hat and a view of a bay possibly New York with tall skyscrapers. It also shows an artist in touch with modern developments. A touch of Modigliani in the face of the model, perhaps Chagall in the landscape, a touch of Cubism in the modelling - all of these styles were prevalent at the time. One might even associate them with the 20s. And it’s interesting because when you come to the music none of these features seem to be reflected. No Stravinsky or Schoenbergian influence or even much Jazz. Debussy certainly, also Sibelius, possibly Grieg. This is really a late romantic flowering of Swedish art song, mainly concerning loss or sadness or the sea, but little that is radically modern or new.

The booklet also has a wonderful black and white photograph of Nystroem c.1960 at Saro overlooking a snowy shoreline into a fading sun. The writer of the liner notes, Christina Tobeck tells us the composer was born inland in Dalerna but throughout his life had a love of the sea and preferred to share the hard life of fishermen on their villages rather than to enjoy the high life of 1920s Paris where he was studying. She goes on to say "Nature and poetry were always main sources of inspiration for Nystroem, and above all in the work of Ebba Lindqvist." She goes on to say that he thought "the task of music is to elevate and enrich the lyric, to be an atmosphere surrounding the poet’s words. The lyric must never be used for purely musical purposes. In Nystroem’s songs the words are delivered in recitative-like vocal lines which are intermittently melodies or intensified through expressive drama".

He has a great love and respect for all of the poets he sets. As well as Lindqvist one could mention the settings of Hjalmar Gullberg. Words are painted certainly but never at the loss of the overall atmosphere. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the major work on this CD, the song cycle ‘Agony’ eight dark settings of Par Lagerkvist.

You are considerably well on into the CD when you reach a contrasted style. ‘Love in springtime’ comes as a surprise as it's night clubby. Light musical language is in conflict almost with what has gone before. Its date, 1949, puts the song much later than anything previously heard and may reflect the composer’s growing self confidence and willingness to loosen up at last. Only the three songs ‘Soul and Landscape’ are later (settings of Lindqvist again) dating from 1950. There are some songs of 1914-18 - i.e. from the same period as the painting mentioned earlier.

Songs of a slow melancholy character predominate. They are very beautiful both melodically and harmonically, but there are a few others of livelier nature. I enjoyed ‘There sat a cat by Kattegat’. This song comes in a group of three in the middle of the CD which are quite light in nature and witty. These also include ‘The Old man and the old woman’.

It has been a real joy hearing these heartfelt songs performed by such a sensitive pair of musicians. Charlotte Hellekant has an ideal recitalist's voice. She has a strong lower register, which retains its character and is never forced and a floaty higher register, which is perfect for such songs as the final, elegant ‘Nocturne’. Andreas Kilstrom is a superbly accomplished pianist whose role is certainly equal to that of Hellekant’s. The recorded balance is very natural.

All texts are translated into English and German but it is fun to follow the songs in Swedish and to enjoy the alliteration and percussiveness of the language and the singer’s fine way with diction and vocal colour.

Gary Higginson

And Rob Barnett writes:-

This is, I believe, the first CD dedicated entirely to the songs of the Swedish composer, Gösta Nystroem. There is a largely complementary Intim-Musik CD which is predominantly Nystroem songs but mixes in two piano solos. On the Daphne disc there are twenty-five songs in four cycles (or sets) and eight 'singletons'.

Hellekant, dark-hued of voice, evinces operatic credentials in the power she brings to forte passages. In this sense she is rather like Gunvor Nilsson on Intim. Hellekant manages expressionistic Nordic twilit romance quite naturally and she has the edge on Nilsson in having a steadier tone. Hellekant is no stranger to Nystroem having recorded for Phono-Suecia the Sinfonia del Mare and the orchestral version of Sånger vid havet (the first set - does anyone know if the second set was orchestrated?).

The two sets of Sånger vid havet are mood-related and certainly thematically linked to the Sinfonia del Mare (to follow three years after the first set and six years before the new set) - lyrical, strong, rather lonely in character. In the words of fellow composer, Moses Pergament, this is Nystroem '... profoundly moving elegiac and funereal ... much in it that expresses intense sorrow over the tragedy of living.'

The First World War Bergmann and Malmberg settings predate the Sånger vid havet by twenty seven years and lean more towards Sibelius's song style. Very different are the expressionist depressive mood-pictures of Ur Ångest (1923-8) and Nocturne (1924). Moments in this music reminded me of Schoenberg's Hanging Garden songs. Andakt of 1914 (the earliest song here) looks towards Ur Ångest.

Att älska i vårens tid (1949) is one of Nystroem's forays into popular music (rather like the instrumental solo Valse Marine on the Intim disc), drawing on echt-Wien coffee fragrance. This is Swedish song with a bow and a smiling flourish towards the world of Lehár, Tauber and Kiepura. Gubben och gumman and Det satt en katt vid Kattegatt (1927 and 1946 respectively) are lighter songs highly perfumed and imaginative in the case of the Kattegatt. They would go well in company with Copland's Old American Songs.

Plaudits to Daphne for printing the words of the songs and doing so legibly both in the sung Swedish and in English and German translation side by side with the original. A minor cavil: why not put the track numbers against the title of each song where the texts are printed.

Devotees of Scandinavian song and of Nystroem will need this. Also if your taste runs to Britten or Finzi you will find much stimulation in these most tender musicianly interpretations the success of which is as much due to Kilström as Hellekant.

The rear cover of the booklet is from a portrait familiar from the cover of BIS's CD of the Nystroem Viola Concerto. This is a slightly cropped version of Nystroem's oil painting entitled 'Nina, Copenhagen, 1917'. Nystroem was something of a polymath rather like William Alwyn in this regard. The same Nina appears in the Nystroem canvas that adorns the Intim disc.

Rob Barnett

see also Intim recording


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