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Vol. I: Oratorio and Mozart Arias - 1940-1945
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Messiah: Comfort ye, Every valley
Orchestra of Det Unge Tonekunstnerselskab/Mogens Wöldike, 26.03.1940
Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (c.1637-1707)

Was mich auf dieser Welt betrübt

Else Marie Braun, Julius Koppel (violins), Alberto Medici (cello), Mogens Wöldike (harpsichord), 20.03.1940
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Christmas Oratorio: Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet
Johan Bentzon (flute), Alberto Medici (cello), Mogens Wöldike (harpsichord), 20.03.1940
St. Matthew Passion: O Schmerz - Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen
Mogens Steen Adreassen (oboe), Orchestra and Chorus/Mogens Wöldike, 22.04.1942
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)

Shall I sue, Now cease, my wandíring eyes, Flow, my tears

Jytte Gorki Schmidt (guitar), 17.10.1941
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Die Zauberflöte: Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön, Così fan tutte: Uníaura amorosa (25.02.1942), Don Giovanni: Dalla sua pace, Il mio tesoro intanto (27.02.1942), Die Entführung aus dem Serail: Hier soll ich dich denn sehen, Konstanze, Imm Mohrenland gefangen war (31.08.1943)
Royal Orchestra, Copenhagen/Egisto Tango
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

The Creation: Mit Würdí und Hoheit angetan
Orchestra/Mogens Wöldike, no date
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Eugene Onegin: Lenskiís aria (in Danish)
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Faust: Salut demeure (in Danish)
Royal Orchestra, Copenhagen/Johan Hye-Knudsen, 25.10.1944

Acis and Galatea: Love sounds the alarm, Solomon: Sacred raptures cheer my breast
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Stockholm/Mogens Wöldike, from a rehearsal at the Musikaliska Akademien, Stockholm, 25.09.1945, previously unpublished
Aksel Schiøtz (tenor), orchestras etc. as shown
Dates as shown, the only location named is that of the rehearsal extract


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Other volumes: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6][7] [8] [9] [10]

Asked to name a Danish tenor, most people will come up with Lauritz Melchior, which goes to show that itís the whopping great voices putting across heroic roles in opera houses that reach Mr. Everyman. Musicians and lovers of the refined art of lieder singing are likely to add the name of Aksel Schiøtz, and they will know that in his field he was not a whit inferior to his famous countryman.

Aksel Schiøtz was born in 1906 and gave his first song recital in 1936. He was taken up by HMV in 1938 but not long after that the war broke out, leading to the seizure of Denmark by Hitler in 1940. Staunchly anti-Nazi, Schiøtz, already a national figure, helped keep alive the stand for freedom at home and in other invaded Scandinavian countries but his international career was of course on hold. After the war his work with HMV was resumed, including recordings of Die schöne Müllerin and Dichterliebe with Gerald Moore that are legendary. He appeared in the first performances of Brittenís The Rape of Lucretia, but in 1946 he had to be operated on for a tumor acusticus and this left half his face lame. By sheer will-power he managed a comeback of sorts, now singing as a baritone, and became a widely sought-after teacher in the United States and Canada. He died in 1975.

In view of the shortness of his career, and taking into consideration the hiatus caused by the war, it is a wonder that his recorded legacy is so large. Danacord has lavished its customary care on a complete edition in 10 volumes of his recordings prior to the operation, including unpublished material with informative notes on Schiøtz himself and a number of other Danish and Denmark-based musicians with whom he worked in particular, plus full texts and translations of everything sung.

The lieder and Danish song recordings will no doubt prove to be Schiøtzís greatest contribution, but this first volume concentrates on oratorio and allows us a glimpse of the singerís not very extensive work on the operatic stage. In the opening Handel aria we can immediately appreciate the sheer evenness and beauty of Schiøtzís voice, his natural musicianship and the clarity of his diction, scarcely tainted by the trace of an accent (and even this slight trace is undetectable in the Dowland songs). The conductor Mogens Wöldike was Schiøtzís mentor and we can hear how he had developed a light-textured, buoyant baroque style far ahead of his time. The booklet includes Schiøtzís reminiscences of Wöldike and also his thoughts on singing "Comfort ye" and "Every valley". He states that "The singers of Handelís time used embellishments and appoggiaturas lavishly. I doubt, however, that we should attempt historical correctness in this respect". I fear, however, that modern ears will find one or two phrases, sung absolutely as written, just a little too bald, and this is the more noticeable when the style of singing is not obviously dated in other respects. In the case of Bach and the very attractive Buxtehude piece, the German style was more complete in itself than Handelís English style, requiring less ornamentation, and one can only admire the ease of delivery and the pure nobility of feeling, without having to make any allowances for the fact that these are performances from more than 60 years ago. Also the Dowland emerge remarkably convincingly; our age, which prides itself on its rediscovery of early music, must reflect that Dowland and his like were never a closed book for an intelligent musician.

Just two slight reservations need to be expressed. One is that, though his high notes are mostly free and easy, occasionally there is a hint of strain. It is known that this became a problem towards 1945 and in retrospect we know it was due to the cancer developing in his vocal chords. I am not sure exactly when the problem started. The other is that his generally pure, clean style is sometimes marred by the minutest trace of a downward portamento.

We also have Schiøtzís memories of Egisto Tango, an Italian who worked at the Royal Opera in Copenhagen and saw that the Danes got a staple operatic diet of Mozart and Verdi, but who also took the trouble to perform Nielsenís "Maskarade" and who conducted the first recording (with Telmanyi) of that composerís violin concerto. On the evidence of a few arias we can only say that he seems to know his job. As a Mozartian tenor Schiøtz was perfectly cast and these arias are worth studying by todayís singers. The Tchaikovsky and Gounod are sung in Danish and are thus really curios, but they certainly show that Schiøtz had operatic potentialities which he would surely have developed if his career had been allowed to flower in the 1940s and 1950s.

The disc closes with an unpublished rehearsal extract. Unfortunately both Schiøtz and Wöldike are in uncharacteristically heavy form with the Stockholm orchestra sounding much larger than the groups Wöldike conducted at the beginning of the CD (the conductor admits afterwards that "the rhythm lacks plasticity") so it may be no great loss that the recordings were not completed.

All who care about good singing should get to know the work of Aksel Schiøtz. I hope to report on subsequent volumes in due course. The transfers are good and the voice crosses the decades with notable realism.

Christopher Howell

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