Brief biographical notes on the great Danish tenor Aksel Schiøtz
can be found in my review of Vol. 1.
Vol. 5 in this invaluable series was largely dedicated
to Christoph Ernst Friedrich Weyse, whose simple folk-like charms mark
the beginning of a development in Danish music which was to culminate
in Carl Nielsen. Vol. 6 has some further Weyse material in the form
of extracts from a 1940 film. The simple accompaniments have been orchestrated
(only Kommer hid retains its piano accompaniment), but quite
delicately and tastefully. The booklet itself points out that better
recorded and completer versions of these songs (except the brief Retfærd
og Frihed) are to be found elsewhere. Still, though the sound quality
is inferior to that of contemporary discs, it is generally not too bad
and the omission of some verses of these strophic songs will be a matter
of great concern only to Danish listeners. Schiøtz completists
will like to know that he is in fine voice throughout, and should also
be warned that Der staaer et Slot is sung not by Schiøtz
but, very sweetly, by the soprano Edith Oldrup. Included also is a spot
of dialogue in which we hear Schiøtz’s speaking voice.
Schiøtz’s Nielsen recordings will be grouped
together in Vol. 10. In the meantime the roughly chronological survey
moves into the romantic era. Truth to tell, we would hardly guess this
from the work of Henrik Rung which, in so far as one can judge from
four items, follows in the footsteps of Weyse. Most attractive is the
folksong arrangement, which also makes effective use of a chorus.
Hartmann is clearly a more important figure. While
retaining the simplicity of Weyse and while not forsaking the basically
strophic form (but in the last stanza of Lær mig the vocal
line is memorably altered) there are little touches in the accompaniments
to suggest that a real composer is at work. Lær mig had
already attracted my attention in the 1938 recording included in Vol.
4 but this 1940 version is absolutely the one to have, in spite of inferior
sound quality. While Koppel in 1938 insisted on a brisk, "let’s
get on with it" approach (were they compelled to squeeze the song
onto a 10" side?) here he is highly poetic and gives the piece,
now revealed as a gem, all the space it needs to expand (03:04 against
02:42). This song really deserves to be taken up by singers outside
Denmark. Vol. 4 also contained a 1941 remake of Sverkel’s Romance.
In this case there seems little to choose except that the voice is better
caught in 1941 at the expense of a more recessed orchestra. We also
have Schiøtz’s understandably heartfelt singing in 1946 of "To
the fallen". The greater presence of the voice compared to the
earlier recordings is immediately striking but unfortunately the engineers
overestimated the capacities of their microphone and considerable distortion
follows. So what seems initially one of the best recordings turns out
to be one of the worst of the lot.
The gentle romanticism of Hartmann is one side of Danish
music. The austere, heroic-bardic side, the side that looks North of
the Baltic rather than southwards, is to be found in the Four Medieval
Ballads. Not especially interesting in themselves – Schiøtz
sings mostly unaccompanied with occasional interjections from the unaccompanied
chorus – they make a fine introduction to the Gade items in which the
bardic tone is strongly felt. Coming at this point in the programme
one can only be impressed by the strength of Gade’s invention, and Knud
Lavard, in particular, has a quite elaborate and masterly piano
part. Altogether I was left distinctly curious as to what else Gade’s
song output may contain – as far as I am aware not even Danacord have
dedicated an entire disc to his songs as yet.
There was some hope at the time that Elverskud might
be recorded complete. The two extracts here are all that came of it.
A pity since it is apparent that an Elverskud under Wöldike
would have been a much more urgent affair than the sleepy version under
Hye-Knudsen which was available on a Turnabout LP in the 1970s. Another
oddity is that the part of Oluf was sung in the later version by a baritone,
Ib Hansen. Since the tessitura lies between C and F it is not beyond
the reach of either voice, but it sounds more natural from a tenor,
or at least it does when the tenor is Aksel Schiøtz and the baritone
is the sensitive but not entirely firm-voiced Ib Hansen. We do not actually
hear Schiøtz in the Morning Chorus but fans may like to
know that he was there nonetheless; having sung his solo he took his
place back in the chorus where he had received his early training, under
the conductor who remained his mentor.
The CD concludes with the Danish National Anthem and
another piece in patriotic vein for which I can do no better than quote
Arne Helman’s interesting, informative and often entertaining notes.
"It was bad luck that [Oehlenschläger’s] noble, simple lines
fell into the hands of a bad composer who had no idea how to fit ‘Ton
und Wort’. The important word in the first line is ‘graceful’. So what
does the illiterate composer do? He puts his accents on ‘is’ and ‘country’!
Gerd Schiøtz [the singer’s widow] told me that Aksel Schiøtz
would sometimes, for party entertainment, make a hilarious parody of
Krøyer’s tune. Unfortunately this recording is straight. But
it comes last on the CD so that the listener need not hear it more than
once. The tune has been adopted by Danish soccer spectators, probably
because it roars rather well."
In spite of the age of these recordings – which still
sound well if you are not dependent on digital sound – no fuller anthology
of Danish song seems to have been attempted since. The case for investigating
Hartmann and Gade is, on this showing, a strong one; in the meantime
those who wish to follow the development from Weyse through to Nielsen
can be directed to this series, safe in the knowledge that any subsequent
recordings, however superior technically, are unlikely to be more beautifully