Brief biographical notes on the great Danish tenor Aksel Schiøtz
can be found in my review of Vol. 1.
Vol. 7 sets aside the chronological survey of Danish
song begun in Vols. 5 and 6 (it is resumed in Vol. 8 which is largely
centred around Peter Heise) and presents firstly a group of songs with
piano from the post-Nielsen era and secondly a more mixed (not only
Danish) sequence of recordings with orchestra, ending up, presumably
because there was nowhere else for it to go, with an anonymous but technicoloured
version (complete with cornet solo) of Stephen Foster’s Gentle Annie.
If you look at the dates of the composers and imagine
you will be getting a glimpse of the Danish equivalent of Ireland, Warlock
or Finzi in Great Britain, well no, what you are getting is more the
equivalent of the sort of English songs that were being recorded in
the same period by the likes of John McCormack and Peter Dawson. Not
to say this is bad, but the question as to what the Danish equivalent
of the three British composers mentioned might be does not get an answer
here. Though Danacord have done such sterling work for Danish composers,
songs do not seem a high priority and at present we can only wonder
what the large quantity of songs by Rued Langgaard are like, and whether
Louis Glass, for example wrote any, and what about Vagn Holmboe? And
indeed, what about Schiøtz’s faithful pianist Herman D. Koppel,
who certainly composed prolifically and some of whose instrumental music
is available from Danacord?
But to return to what we have here, two tendencies
may be identified. One is that of the simple strophic song, come down
from Weyse through Rung and Hartmann. This, as Arne Helman’s once-again
informative notes explain, became connected with the "folkelig"
movement. Helman explains that "The word is used about democratic
and cultural awareness in the people. A hundred years ago there was
a broad movement of enlightenment and cultural participation within
the Danish farming population, maturing it for political power."
He goes on to say that "There was a demand for fresh songs to go
with the movement. Carl Nielsen, Thomas Laub, Thorvald Aagaard, Oluf
Ring met the challenge, composed for and jointly edited a striking book
of ‘folkelige’ songs. These songs should be easy, but of high literary
and musical quality. Till this day such songs bind the Danish people
together, from the queen to school-children".
So if many of the songs which open this disc sound
as if they are intended more for unison singing than as solo pieces,
that is exactly what they are intended for; and if they are still
so used in Danish schools today (as I believe) then this can only contribute
to the nation’s cultural level. Long may their use continue, and it
must be a wonderful inspiration for the children, having studied a song,
to hear what colour and expression a great singer such as Aksel Schiøtz
can give to the words and the melody.
But at the same time, I can understand why they are
little known outside Denmark. While a non-Danish singer might take up
a piece of great melodic beauty such as Hartmann’s Laer mig, Natterns
Stjerne, study the pronunciation phonetically with passable results
and win over even Danish listeners by sheer beautiful singing, I can’t
see a non-Danish speaker ever getting really inside these pieces, or
a non-Danish-speaking public appreciating them fully. For myself, a
non-Danish-speaker, I found attractive those whose piano parts had a
little more in them, to bring them closer to the art-song as it is generally
understood. These were Thomson’s Til Glæden and Agerby’s
Majnat and Havren. I thought the former so beautiful that
I could take easily all five verses. This is a song which could travel
outside Denmark. At this point the disc begins to chart another trend
in Danish song writing, for Agerby’s other alter ego was that of the
drawing-room composer. High-level drawing-room music, to be sure (and
he accompanies his four songs very effectively himself, too), while
the following two by Mogens Schrader are more tawdry and are saved only
by Schiøtz’s caressing tones and gentle rubato. I can only too
well imagine (and I hope never to hear) what your average stentorian
tenor might make of them.
The folk-tune Jeg gik mik ud en Sommerdag appeared
in Vol. 6 in a more effective arrangement, with chorus, by Henrik Rung.
That recording dates from 1942 and surely supersedes completely the
anonymous (in more senses than one) arrangement heard here. With the
next two songs we are back to the "folkelig" trend. Riisager’s
"Mother Denmark", originally intended for a cabaret artist,
was recorded with Gerald Moore in London in 1939; as far as the singer
is concerned there is little to choose between the two; however, Koppel
is having an off-day and lags irritatingly behind Schiøtz, leaving
a preference for the version with Moore.
Rung’s I Danmark er jeg født opened
Vol. 6. Here it makes a stronger impression with orchestral accompaniment
(is the orchestration Rung’s own?). Partly because in the place of the
too retiring Chr. Christiansen at the piano we have Mogens Wöldike
in clearly dedicated form but above all because Schiøtz himself
is in especially fine voice.
The two items from Lange-Müller’s Der var engang
(Once upon a time) were remade in 1941 with the same conductor,
Hye-Knudsen. Vocally they seem equally fine. The later version has the
voice more forward, almost aggressively so, while the earlier one is
more honeyed and better integrated. Hear the first entry of the voice
in the Serenade over the chorus (a very effective idea on the part of
the composer); the 1938 recording has it just right. The Serenade from
Lange-Müller’s Renaissance is a highly attractive piece,
too, as is the Venetian Serenade by the Norwegian Svendsen. As
for the Rygaard piece, Helman comments naughtily "It is debatable
if ‘The Flag’ should be sung in a refined manner. It was Lauritz
Melchior’s favourite Danish song which he gave the full treatment".
I was heartily grateful for Schiøtz’s refinement.
Though I personally enjoyed this disc I can’t claim
it has high priority for the general listener. It depends how interested
you are in Danish music as a whole, and in Schiøtz, who sings
as finely as ever.