The folk music of Sweden,
and especially that of the province
of Dalarna (Dalecarlia) in the heart
of Sweden, as those of us who live here
like to call it, has long been the source
of inspiration for composers, arrangers
and musicians. The "spelmansmusik"
(traditional folk music performed mainly
by fiddlers but also on a variety of
other instruments) is especially strong
and alive in Dalecarlia. Composers like
Oskar Lindberg (the uncle of Nils Lindberg),
Erland von Koch, Edwin Kallstenius and,
internationally most well-known, Hugo
Alfvén have borrowed, quoted
and reworked traditional tunes from
the province. In the 1950s and 1960s
jazz musicians also found their way
to this inexhaustible source: Jan Johansson,
Bengt Hallberg, Georg Riedel and most
consistently Nils Lindberg. Descending
from a family of musicians with their
roots in Gagnef, situated some kilometres
south of Lake Siljan, Nils studied at
the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm.
There his teachers were Lars-Erik Larsson
and Karl Birger Blomdahl – one traditionalist
and one modernist. He soon became well-known
as a jazz pianist and gradually started
to incorporate folk music elements in
his jazz compositions and improvisations.
For some years he also collaborated
with Duke Ellington as pianist and arranger.
His interest in choral music is of a
later date but during the last fifteen
years or so he has written a lot of
both large scale choral works and small
but exquisite a cappella compositions.
His setting of Shakespeare’s Shall
I compare thee to a summer’s day,
has become a "standard" song
with Swedish choirs. I have also seen
it on international record releases.
On the present disc
he has picked and chosen some of the
finest tunes from the rich treasure-trove
of the sacred songs of Dalecarlia. Most
churches in bygone days had their own
local melodies to the texts in the official
hymn book and they were often more elegant,
more ornamented than the heavier, maybe
more doom-laden hymn book versions.
There is a certain similarity to the
fiddlers’ way of embellishing their
tunes. Since organs were rare, at least
in the small churches, the hymns were
performed a cappella, normally in unison.
The tunes are mainly
from the parishes around Lake Siljan:
Malung, Siljansnäs, Leksand, Orsa
while the very last melody, a variant
of Den signade dag (O blessed day),
which earlier on in the programme is
presented in a version from Orsa, comes
from Nils Lindberg’s home-parish Gagnef
and is actually collected by his uncle
The tunes, or rather
hymns, are arranged with a cautious
hand to make sure that the melodies
get their due. These are beautiful,
often melancholy tunes, which probably
can sound exotic to listeners unfamiliar
with the idiom, but I know that people
from Eastern Europe often feel an affinity
with the Dalecarlian music, even with
the Scandinavian music at large. Somebody
cleverly said that we all belong to
the same "region of melancholy".
Often Lindberg starts the songs in unison
and then gradually adds chords but his
harmonic language is unobtrusive: it
never dominates the melodies, it only
serves to emphasize them. Everything
is beautifully written – and executed
by one of the best church choirs in
Sweden. For authenticity reasons the
recordings were made in the Church of
Dala Järna in western Dalecarlia,
a church with beautiful, open acoustics
and indeed suitable for this specific
music. The recording, in surround sound
4.0, catches all this very well and
knowing this church – I have even sung
there myself – I can assure readers
that this is the way it sounds there.
For all the beauty
of these melodies a full CD with mainly
slow to middle tempo songs might be
too much of a good thing, and Nils Lindberg
has wisely chosen to intersperse the
choir’s contribution with organ pieces,
in many cases with elaborations of the
same tunes that the choir has just sung.
And here he uses quite a different language,
where he doesn’t shy from using harsh
harmonies, and Andrew Canning, who at
present is assistant organist at Uppsala
Cathedral, makes the most of these challenging
The juxtaposition of
these two elements: the choir in a "traditional"
national romantic idiom and the organ
in a bold "modernistic" style,
builds bridges between and across the
centuries in a most refreshing way.
I do urge readers to try this disc for
the sake of the programme, for the sake
of the composer/arranger, who is one
of the most distinctive voices in present
day music life in Sweden, and for the
performance by the choir and the organist.
All this in a brand-new state-of-the-art
recording by Proprius, who have been
famous for 35 years for sonic excellence,
especially in recording choirs and organs.