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The Complete Aksel Schiøtz Recordings 1933-1946: Vol. 10
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)

Prinsesse Tove (1920) (1), Sundt Blod (1915) (2, 25), Hiemvee (1915) (3, 16), Sang bag Ploven op. 10/1 (1894) (4, 24), Sjælland (1908) (5), Jægersang (1908) (6), I Aften op. 10/5 (1894) (7), Sommersang op. 10/3 (1894) (8), Aprilsvise (1924) (9), Af Sted! (1915) (10), Fynsk Forår: Den milde dag (1921) (11, 22), Den danske sang (1924) (12), Irmelin Rose op. 4 (1891) (13), Genrebillede op. 6 (1891) (14), Havet omkring Danmark (1908) (15), Hymne til Danmark (1916) (17), Jens Vejmand (1907) (18), Skjaldens Sange op. 40 (1920): Sangen om Danmark (19), Prinsesse Tove (20), Klagesang (21), Maskarade: Magdeloneís Dance Scene (23)
Aksel Schiøtz (tenor), Chr. Christiansen (piano) (1-4), Herman D. Koppel (piano) (5-10, 12-17), Gerald Moore (piano) (11), Holger Lund-Christiansen (piano) (18), Arne Skjold Rasmussen (piano) (19), Folmer Jensen (piano) (24, 25), Royal Orchestra, Copenhagen/Johan Hye-Knudsen (20-21, 23), Copenhagen Philharmonic/Svend Christian Felumb (22), Ingeborg Steffenson (mezzo-soprano), Einar Norby (baritone) (23)
Recorded February 14th 1938 (1-4), September 5th 1938 (5-7), October 7th 1938 (8-10), May 26th 1939 (11), June 8th 1940 (12), June 11th 1940 (13-15), June 21st 1940 (16), October 5th 1940 (17), June 27th 1941 (18), October 5th 1942 (19), August 22nd 1940 (20-21), September 2nd 1940 (22), December 27th 1939 (23), January 28th 1943 (24-25) (11) recorded in London. Other locations (presumably Danish) not given
Original HMV recordings (except 19, a Danish Society issue) transferred at the Abbey Road Studios by Andrew Walter
DANACORD DACOCD 460 [64:49]


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

Brief biographical notes on the great Danish tenor Aksel Schiøtz can be found in my review of Vol. 1.

The final volume of this important series containing all known recordings made by Aksel Schiøtz prior to the operation which ended his career as a tenor, concludes by grouping together all his Nielsen recordings, and so also concludes the historical survey of Danish song contained in Vols. 5 (principally Weyse), 6 (principally Hartmann and Gade) and 8 (principally Heise). If your interest is primarily in Nielsen rather than Schiøtz, you may already have, or prefer to buy, Vol. 6 of Danacordís historical Nielsen series (DACOCD 365/7) which contains most of the present recordings plus a range of further ones by early Nielsen interpreters.

Since this series is aimed at those whose interest is in Schiøtz rather than Nielsen, I suppose it is reasonable that the songs appear in the order in which Schiøtz recorded them, rather than the order in which they were composed. At the same time Arne Helman, our invaluable guide throughout the series, suggests it is not "possible to imagine a selection that introduces songs by Carl Nielsen more convincingly than this one, and I hope that it will give joy to many listeners abroad". I must say that Nielsenís development as a song composer is a somewhat unexpected one and having listened to the CD as it is presented I then put the songs in chronological order and heard them that way. And I suggest that the listener new to most of them, aided by Helmanís notes which describe Nielsenís aims and objectives in song writing as he developed as a composer, might do the same thing, at least once.

The first striking fact is that the most apparently original songs are those from his earliest years. It is also immediately apparent that, however Nielsen may have rated Heise as a composer, he must have felt that this was a fundamentally non-Danish art, and he himself took up from where Weyse and Hartmann had left off, that is with the simple strophic song. The Sang bag Ploven ("Song behind the Plough") is, despite its ambling accompaniment, as "folkelig" (see my review of Vol. 7 for a discussion of this movement) as anything written during his later collaboration with Thomas Laub. Incidentally, I donít agree with Helman that the 1943 recording is disappointing compared with the earlier one. I find its mood of gentle resignation rather attractive, though it is certainly a surprising interpretation of the words, and I wonder if that particularly poetic pianist Folmer Jensen had a hand in it.

In these earlier years, however, Nielsen was still writing pieces for a true soloist and willingly provided brilliantly imaginative piano parts. Irmelin Rose, also set by Delius, has exuberant writing for both partners, and Genrebillede is a tone poem in miniature. These are the Nielsen songs, I dare say, which would most attract non-Danish singers, as would surely the delightful Sommersang and the striking harmonies of I Aften. Then from 1907 we have the strophic, folk song-like Jens Vejmand and while in two of the pieces from 1908, Sjælland and Jægersang, he still adorns the simple strophic settings with picturesque tone painting on the piano, the move is towards very simple melodies, as suitable for unison singing in the schools as for a soloist, and simple piano parts with straightforward diatonic harmonies. Only in Aprilvise does he once again permit himself a positively zany piano part. In other words, if you placed this music, without indications of date, in the hands of a perceptive and well-informed (but not about Nielsen) musician and asked him to suggest a likely chronological order, he would probably place it in exactly the opposite sequence to that in which it was actually composed. So what was Nielsen trying to do?

First of all, he was putting the interests of Denmark before his own. Danish schoolchildren needed national melodies of high quality to sing in the classroom. Lyric poetry by Danish writers was not lacking but it had either not been set to music or had been set poorly. So, together with Thomas Laub, he set to work to create a national repertoire. "A Score of Danish Songs", Part 1, was published in 1915, Part 2 in 1917. 23 of the songs were by Nielsen. A similar operation had been carried out in England in 1905 by Stanford, with the "National Song Book", but he depended upon the national melodies of the British Isles. Evidently Nielsen judged that the Danish folk melodies were too few to suffice on their own.

It must be said that Nielsen and Laub succeeded brilliantly. Many of their melodies were taken into their hearts by the Danes and I believe they are still at the basis of musical education in Danish schools. Long may they remain so. In terms of Nielsenís own personal development, however, it could seem puzzling that he dedicated so much time and effort to the whittling down of an already developed art to arrive at a conclusion apparently similar to the sort of "school songs" Stanford and his successors in Great Britain tended to dash off on the back of an envelope, send to the publisher and promptly forget about. With the difference that Stanford and company continued, as a parallel development, to write "normal" solo songs with "imaginative" accompaniments, and when they wrote symphonies they switched onto another wavelength and brought into play all the received wisdom of the classical-romantic apparatus. In other words, while you could translate into Danish a strophic song like Stanfordís "Sowerís Song" (posthumously published in 1927 as both a solo and a unison song) and almost convince a Dane that it was by Nielsen (it has an outdoors atmosphere and even a melodic profile similar to Sundt Blod), when Stanford had to build a symphony, he used other bricks.

And so much the worse for him, Nielsen might have thought. For what Nielsen was really doing was eliminating from his music every element that was not Danish. No matter that he seemed to be left with little; for him it was enough. And when he built symphonies, he insisted on using these pure Danish bricks. Which is why he became one of the most original symphonists of the 20th Century while Stanford just remained a fairly good one. So, while it is possible to feel that these simple little songs are not especially interesting in themselves to non-Danish ears, if you love Nielsenís symphonies and other large-scale works, you will surely want to know the bricks from which they are built.

And, if you are prepared to accept recordings which are "good for their date", I donít think you could find a more sympathetic interpreter than Aksel Schiøtz. He rises magnificently to the earlier "concert" pieces and even though I donít speak Danish I can appreciate the subtlety with which he varies the simple strophic pieces. A word about the songs which exist in more than one version. I fully agree with Helman that Hiemvee is more magical in 1940 than in 1938. I would point out that the later version is sung a tone higher. I have noted several of these upward transpositions in previous volumes. Occasional the result is strained, but more often it is an improvement and the higher version is actually more gentle and intimate. Paradoxically, I think it is easier for a light tenor to project a song easily in a higher key since the natural sheen of the voice comes into play and carries it without forcing. While in the lower key there is the danger of trying to find a baritonal resonance which the voice does not really have. And, pace Helman, I feel the same about the 1943 Sundt Blod, up a semitone from 1938 and more gently poetical to my ears. There seems little to choose, vocally, between the two versions of Prinsesse Tove, but the later one has the original orchestral accompaniment; the same for the song from Fynsk Forår, obviously, and the later version has added flexibility too.

Generally, I have found this series to have been a wonderfully enriching experience. I am grateful to all involved for their unstinting care in presenting everything with full annotation, texts and translations. While commenting frequently on Arne Helmanís notes, I may not have acknowledged sufficiently the role of Schiøtzís widow Gerd, who was joint-producer of the series. As well as the great lieder interpretations I am glad to have a clearer picture in my mind regarding the development of Danish song, though I think that those out of the several CDs dedicated to this that I will come back to frequently would actually amount to about a single CDís worth; a couple of Weyse, a couple of Hartmann, the Gade, all eight Heise, about eight Nielsen, a few single items by Thomson, Bjerre and Agerby, that makes about 25. It is absolutely right that the total legacy of Schiøtz should be available, but I didnít have to pay for these discs! Maybe another company specialising in historical issues (Naxos?) might issue a single disc of "Aksel Schiøtz sings Danish Songs" on the lines I have suggested above. It would deserve much success.

Christopher Howell



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