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Nils LINDBERG (b. 1933)
A Christmas Cantata (2002) [42:09]
Three Swedish Folk Songs arranged for Choir (2003?) [7.56]
Margareta Jalkéus, soprano; Olle Persson, baritone
Gustaf Sjökvist Chamber Choir/Gustaf Sjökvist
Nils Lindberg Big Band
Recorded on 21st December in Storkyrkan, Stockholm.
PROPRIUS PRCD 2027 [50.05]

Who is Nils Lindberg? Many listeners will want a few facts about this composer before opening their purses. He is, according to the ‘blurb’ a jazz legend in Sweden, however he is somewhat less well known further afield. He has few CDs in the catalogues. Lindberg was born in 1933 and began his varied career in the 1950s. He has good antecedents – his uncle was the ‘romantic’ composer Oskar Lindberg. Lindberg ‘neveu’ is a composer, an arranger, a band leader and an accomplished pianist. Forever the eclectic writer, he has made a speciality of ‘fusing’ classical, Swedish folk and jazz. Readers who are 50-something may remember an album from the 1960s called Sax Appeal - it strikes a vague chord in my brain. This was the composer’s breakthrough into vinyl. Lindberg did a number of gigs with big names in the jazz world – including Duke Ellington although he refused to go on the road with the great man. In recent years his most successful and popular album has been the Seven Dalecarlian Paintings dating from 1973. I have not heard this work – but understand that it is an arrangement of old Swedish folk music for a variety of musical forces including jazz combo, big band, orchestra and string quartet. In 1993 Lindberg composed and performed an acclaimed Requiem.

In the Christmas Cantata Lindberg uses his own ‘big band’ along with a ‘chamber’ choir, soprano and baritone soloists. The text is in English, which obviously opens the work to a much wider range of listeners than would be able to understand Swedish. The words are derived from a number of British Christmas carols and the nativity story as written in the King James Version of the Bible. I note with amusement the accompanying text states – ‘lyrics from St Matthew’ etc!

Many favourite carols are here in somewhat modified form; Ding Dong Merrily on High, The Sussex Carol, God rest you merry gentlemen and Merry Christmas. Most of the music for the carols is based on the traditional melodies tailored to suit the composer’s style. However he uses a tune from the town of Mora in the Dalarna region of Sweden; this is used to set the words of the Christopher Wordsworth hymn Sing, O Sing This Blessed Morning. So there is a kind of anchoring in his native soil. Most of the ‘recitative’ is set to original music which well balances the better known tunes. Here jazz seems to be to the fore.

My overall impression is that this is an interesting and fun work. It is always fascinating to listen to ‘fusion’ music although this style of composition can often become unbalanced. My impression of this work is that the ‘big band’ and jazz combo part is the best. In some ways I would have liked to listen to them playing without the interruption from the soloists - for the jazz is really ‘cool.’ And talking of the two soloists, they tend to be ‘popular’ or ‘jazz’ singers rather than classical. So the soprano, for example has a pleasant, but not powerful voice. I imagine that microphones would be a sine qua non for them in the concert hall! The chorus is more Mike Sammes or ‘Sing Something Simple’ rather than Finzi Singers or the Tallis Scholars.

This relatively short CD also includes three brief Swedish Folk Songs set for choir by the composer. These are much more subtle than the Cantata and may well survive it in posterity.

I did like the Cantata and was pleased to have the opportunity to listen to a work much removed from my preference for a normal diet of English Cathedral Music and Renaissance Choral masterpieces!

John France

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