These songs track from the nineteenth century Schumann-accented
songs of Emil Sjögren all the way to the Nystroem's icy-clean lyricism
half way between Mediterranean warmth and Baltic shiver. The years spanned
by these songs run from the 1880s to 1950.
Rangström wrote upwards of 250 songs. He
had a strong tenor voice. His lyricism is not weighed down by the German
lieder tradition despite having studied with Pfitzner. The songs are
gently contoured and do not, at least in these six cases, claw at the
operatic heavens (unlike a number of the songs by Sibelius). Notable
examples are the playful Vinden och nymanen and the extraordinary
Pan. Robert Layton is mildly dismissive of Rangström's symphonies
and has been consistent in that since the 1970s when reviewing the EMI
issues of the first three of the four in Gramophone. This is a pity
as the Third in particular is a spectacularly imaginative work if more
picturesque than symphonically epic.
The Stenhammar songs are pleasingly contoured
and fashioned around directly-speaking German models (closer to Brahms'
folk songs settings than to the ambivalences of Wolf and Schoeck). I
Skogen is however completely personal - a truly lovely song (tr.
9). Dottern Sade has a rippling Schubertian Röslein
eloquence. Stenhammar's setting of Runeberg's Flickan kom ... (tr.
13), in which Stenhammar is at his most emotionally complex, precedes
the equivalent Sibelius setting by seven years.
Sjögren's Six Tannhauser songs stand
out beside the Stenhammar and Rangström for the composer's bright
gift for the supremely singable line. There is something Viennese about
these songs although the notes point us towards Grieg. You need to hear
the delicious Du schaust (tr. 14) prefiguring Weill's most famous
song, the pony trot troubadouring of Hab' ein röslein (tr.
17) and the rocking serenade of Von meinem Auge (tr.19). Sjögren's
violin sonatas are on a Swedish Society Discofil disc.
The psychological and harmonic palettes broaden and
deepen for the Nystroem songs; not that he ever drifts into the
atonal. Nordic regret, dramatic protest, bleached landscapes and the
most touching tunefulness characterise these songs. The composer weaves
and melts from accidie to emotional defiance to heroic statement and
retreat into the ‘consolation’ of loneliness and the company of the
wide seas. Both cycles take the sea as the backdrop and as a metaphor
for desolation and comfort. Nystroem was much taken with the French
scene. His songs might be compared with those of Duparc though completely
purged of any Wagnerian accents. Roger Vignoles takes the far from insignificant
piano parts with the utmost discretion and delicacy. In these Nystroem
songs there is little call on him to surge or orate heroically although
there are passing moments of this type in Havet sjunger (tr.
25) and Det Enda (tr. 26). Det Enda is the song that appears
in the centre of Nystroem's orchestral Sinfonia del Mare. If
you are searching around to win new friends for Scandinavian songs and
for Nystroem in particular then go straight to this last track. It shows
Nystroem at his most instantly appealing and probing. It is a truly
haunting and touching song and will resonate long in the memory. You
can also hear this in its true setting in two other recordings: Swedish
Society Discofil (in which Elizabeth Söderström is outstanding)
and more recently in one of Yevgeny Svetlanov's last recordings - this
time for Phono-Suecia (http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2001/Apr01/nystroem.htm).
If you prefer to hear more Nystroem songs there are
two all Nystroem collections:-
Daphne (Charlotte Hellekant)
Intim (Gunvor Nilsson)
Hyperion, time after time, strike just the right note
with their forays into the unknown or hardly known. Design details in
the case of this disc are impeccable and in step with the music. Full
texts and translations are given. Robert Layton (who richly merits the
decorations he has received from the Scandinavian governments for services
to their music) provides the notes. I have pillaged these shamelessly.
It is not like Hyperion to omit to tell us where these songs were recorded
though that is exactly what they have done here; not that the sound
and ambience is in any way deficient.
Miah Persson is a young Swedish singer. She moves from
the vocal attributes of girlish innocence to a more care-worn angry-amber
passion without apparent effort. Hyperion chose well. It is no surprise
to read that her operatic roles have included Susanna and Pamina as
well as Sophie (Rosenkavalier), and Frasquita (Carmen).
This is her debut recital album. She can rest glowingly assured that
she could hardly have had a better calling card. I do hope that Hyperion
will want to record her again. Unfeigned pleasure.