> Land of the midnight sun [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Land of the Midnight Sun

Scandinavian Songs for Soprano and Orchestra
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Var det en drom
Flickan kom ifran sin alsklings mote
Svarta rosor
Säv, Säv, Susa
Demanten på marssnön
Våren flyktar hastigt

Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

En svane
Fra monte pincio

Ture RANGSTRÖM (1884-1947)

Bön till natten
En gammal dansrytm

Arne EGGEN (1881-1955)

Ære det evige forDr i livet

Eyvind ALNÆS (1872-1932)

De hundrede fioliner
Nu briste alle de kløfter
Februarmorgen ved Golfen

Harald LIE (1902-1942)


Birgit Nilsson (sop) Vienna Opera Orchestra/Bertil Bokstedt (Sibelius, Grieg, Rangström)
Kirsten Flagstad (sop) London SO/Øivin Fjeldstad (Eggen, Alnæs, Lie)
rec 1959 (Nilsson), 1965 (Flagstad) stereo ADD
ELOQUENCE DECCA 466 675-2 [68.16]

I wonder whose concept this disc represents. It works very well. Nilsson and Flagstad are two primarily Wagnerian sopranos and each gives thes songs a very grown-up heft and confidence.

Nilsson is naturally in operatic voice and this is clearest in the high dramatics of Var det en drom and Höstkvåll. The latter is a subtle song with linkages, in the harp figuration, to The Bard and Luonnotar. The songs of Richard Strauss are brought to mind by the lovingly treated Flickan which is a truly lovely song. These Sibelius songs are alive with imaginative orchestral detailing. Most of them have a more intimate mien which Nilsson is far more in sympathy with than her operatic credentials might give you cause to predict.

Grieg's En svane shows the way and it is a way which we might already know if we have Delius's orchestral songs (Unicorn Fenby Edition and the Dinemec collection). Fra Monte Pincio sounds not a million miles from the sentimental Viennese songs associated with the Strausses. It would be fascinating to hear Sumi Jo tackle this. The endearing sentimentality of Varen (Last Spring) is well enough known and Nilsson demonstrates her phenomenal ability to loft and hold a high note.

The Rangström songs are psychologically complex and match the sophistication with music that is dramatic, strong on rhetoric and grandeur. So strong is the composer's inclination in this direction that lighter moments suffer from suffocation as in the En Gammal dansrytm which leans towards the waltz rather like Monte Pincio.

The informative notes are by Robert Layton - presumably from the original LP issues. A pity about the odd typo which for example wrongly show the Divertimento Elegiaco as Divertimento Elegaico and which in one case render the name of the poet Fröding as Fr'ding.

Flagstad took up the cudgels with more modern orchestral sound in the mid-1960s. At this stage in her career while still the equal (in fact the superior) of Eggen's Ære det evige ... her voice blurs words far more than the more word-sensitive Nilsson. While Grieg, Sibelius and Rangström are known if not always for their songs, Alnæs, Eggen and Lie are unknown. Lighter serenade-like songs such as Nu brister and Vårlængsler are lighter on the palate (although the latter has its dramatic dimensions) and are aided by orchestral parts that have learnt something from Grieg's orchestral songs. The treasurable Februarmorgen ved Golfen with its high whisper of violins and harp silverpoints seems to sing of a seascape with the stilly ocean unbroken by a breeze.

Lastly there are two songs, each a second or two short of five minutes, by Lie. Nykelen and Skinnvengbrev have an epic attitude. Interesting that, especially in the latter, Flagstad sounds very similar to Ferrier. Her attack is Nykelen is phenomenal.

Sorry folks but no texts provided. Just thank your stars that these recordings are available again and at super bargain price. I do wish people wouldn't be so bleatngly censorious about such omissions. Give me the music every time - and these voices captured in their prime do sound glorious. Of course I would want the words and translations but without them I am well able to enjoy these songs as perfect miniature musical experiences.
Rob Barnett



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