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Now the Green Blade Riseth:
A new way to sing hymns and religious songs (arr. Bengt BERG)
1. Det finns djup i Herrens godhet (There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy)
2. När han kommer (When He Comes)
3. Det finns en väg till himmelen (There Is a Road to Heaven)
4. Prisad högt av herders skara (Thou Whom Shepherds Worshipped)
5. Kornet har sin vila (Love Is Come Again)
6. När vi delar det bröd (When we Share the Bread)
7. Gud är en av oss vid detta bord (God and Man at Table are Sat Down)
8. Guds kärlek är som stranden och som gräset (The Love of God is Broad Like the Beach and Meadow)
9. ”Maria”, sa Judas (Said Judas to Mary)
10. Gud, när du andas över vår jord (God, When You Breathe over our Earth)
11. Si, Jesus är ett tröstrikt namn (Your Name, o, Jesus, is a Comfort)
12. Sorgen och glädjen (Sorrow and Joy)
13. En dunkel örtagård (I  Know of a Dark and Gloomy Garden)
14. Gå varsamt, min Kristen (Walk Carefully, o, Christian)
15. O Jesus kär, vad har väl du förbrutit (O, Jesus Mine, whom have you wronged)
16. Blott en dag, ett ögonblick i sänder (Just One Day, One Moment at a Time)
17. Min själ, du måste nu glömma (My Soul, You Must Now Forget)
18. O Kriste, du som ljuset är (O Christ, who art the Light and Day)
19. I hoppet sig min frälsta själ förnöjer (Hope Gives rest to my Redeemed Soul)
20. Bred dina vida vingar (Spread Your Wings Over Me)
21. Lågorna är många (Many are the Lightbeams)
22. O store Gud (How Great Thou Art)
23. I tro under himmelens skyar (In faith ‘neath the Sky)
24. Dina händer är fulla av blommor (Your Arms are Full of Flowers)
Sung in Swedish. Recorded 18th, 20th & 21st March, 1981, in Österhaninge Church, Stockholm (tr 1 – 20) and 1983 and 1987 in Johannes Church, Stockholm (tr 21 – 24)
Stockholm Cathedral Choir/Gustaf Sjökvist (tr 1 – 20); Johannes Youth Choir/Anders Eby (tr 21 – 24) both choirs with unnamed instrumentalists
PROPRIUS PRSACD 9093 [64:51]

 

 

“A new way to sing hymns and religious songs” says the front cover; something that was true when the majority of the songs on this disc were first published on LP in 1981. The actual reason for the new approach to hymns and religious songs was the new edition of ‘The Swedish Book of Hymns’ in 1976. Many long-established hymns which were regarded as too old-fashioned and unintelligible for modern generations had disappeared, others had gone through drastic textual revisions. There were also many newly written hymns, often in a modern idiom, closer to the popular songs of the day. In addition several well known and loved songs from the Free Church song books were also incorporated. There are examples of all these categories on this disc. In order to attract a younger generation of church visitors, who regarded the traditional hymns as too stern and forbidding and didn’t take to the organ accompaniments, there was a need to find alternative ways of presenting the music. Arrangers like Bengt Berg and Anders Öhrwall, to mention just two, contributed very successfully to this. The recipe was, as can be heard here: a lighter touch, lively speeds, translucent instrumentation (flutes and guitar) and a perceptible pulse (double bass). Just occasionally we hear the organ. Unfortunately there is nowhere in the booklet any mentioning of the players. I would also have liked to find composers and authors named. What we get are the numbers for each hymn and song in the Swedish Hymn Book.

The choice of hymns is good. Several of them do not belong to the top-20 list while there are also some that practically every Swede, church-goer or not, must know. Tracks 11, 12, 16, 20 and 22 definitely belong in this category. O store Gud (track 22) has an interesting  background. It was written by the young Swedish priest Carl Boberg (1859 – 1940) on a warm summer’s day in 1885. He had witnessed a heavy thunderstorm and when the sun came out again he felt he had witnessed the greatness of God. It was first sung in 1888 and reached some popularity but fell into oblivion in Sweden. Some immigrant to North America brought it across the Atlantic, where it appeared under the title How Great Thou Art, and in the 1950s Billy Graham discovered it and made it his signature song. A Swedish visitor to one of his meetings brought it back to Sweden and wanted it translated into Swedish but then somebody recognized the song and knew that it was originally Swedish. Through recordings by among others Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton it has become known all over the world. It is perhaps the only song on this disc that non-Swedish listeners may recognize.

The arranger Bengt Berg is known first and foremost as an organist. He studied for Alf Linder and later in Belgium for Flor Peters and has made several recordings.

The quality of this disc is extremely high. Proprius, founded by Jacob Boëtius, who died earlier this year, was originally a publishing company but in the 1970s Boëtius also started issuing LPs, specializing in organ and choral records. Thanks to recording engineer Bertil Alving the company soon became famous for the realistic reproduction of the organ sound, so notoriously difficult to catch on record. This 25-year-old recording, now refurbished and remastered in SACD 4.0 is still fresh as paint. Hearing it in surround sound is like being transported to Österhaninge Church where it was recorded.

The Stockholm Cathedral Choir, whose home is Storkyrkan in the Old Town, a stone’s throw from the Royal Castle, has long been one of the foremost choirs in a country where almost one million people (out of a population of nine million) are supposed to sing in choirs. Led by Gustaf Sjökvist, one of the most versatile musicians in Sweden who collaborates with musicians from all camps, they sing these hymns with obvious affection, keen rhythms and exemplary precision and enunciation. I can’t believe anyone with an interest in hymns will be disappointed. The last four tracks were recorded a few years later by Johannes Youth Choir, who also sing well, conducted by another important choral expert, Anders Eby. Both he and Sjökvist have been principal conductors of the Swedish Radio Choir.

There are full Swedish texts and excellent, none too literal English translations. Maybe the disc shouldn’t be played straight through at one sitting. Taken five or six at a time these hymns, always melodic (some tunes are really catchy), should be enlightening and stimulating, not only to Swedish-speaking listeners. Personally I found great satisfaction in this reunion with repertoire that I was deeply involved in some 15 years ago, when I put together and presented a programme with some of these and other hymns “with a story” at a series of concerts and also on the radio.

Recommended.

Göran Forsling

 

 

 



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