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.
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
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.
see also Intim recording