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Barbara Hendricks sings Nordic Songs: Nielsen, Grieg, Rangström, Sibelius
Barbara Hendricks
Roland Pöntinen, piano
rec. Studio Tibor Varga, Sion, Switzerland, 23-27 Oct 1998, 10-12 Jan 2002. DDD
EMI CLASSICS 7243 5568842 2 [69:05]

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Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
1. Aebleblomst, Op.10 No.1
2. Skal Blomsterne Da Visne?, Bk I, No.1
3. Hogen, Bk I, No.2
4. Saenk Kun Dit Hoved, Du Blomst, Bk II, No.1
5. Den Forste Laerke, Bk II, No.2
6. Studie Efter Naturen, FS82
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

7. Varen, Op.33, No.2
8. Med En Vandlilje, Op.25, No.4
9. En Svane, Op.25, No.2
10. Solveigs Sang, Op.23, No.1
11. Solveigs Vuggevise, Op.23, No.2
12. Jeg Elsker Dig!, Op.5, No.3
six songs from op. 48
13. I. Gruss
14. II. Dereinst, Gedanke Mein
15. III. Lauf Der Welt
16. IV. Die Verschwiegene Nachtigall
17. V. Zur Rosenzeit
18. VI. Ein Traum
Ture RANGSTRÖM (1884-1947)

19. Melodi
20. Pan
21. Afskedet
22. Bon Till Natten
23. Vingar I Natten
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

24. Flickan Kom Ifran Sin Alsklings Mote, Op.37, No.5
25. Illalle, Op.17, No.6
26. Demanten Pa Marssnon, Op.36, No.6
27. Varen Flyktar Hastigt, Op.13, No.4
28. Saf, Saf, Susa, Op.36, No.4
29. Svarta Rosor, Op.36, No.1
Swedish Folksong

30. Som Stjarnan Uppa Himmelen Sa Klar


Hendricks sets out in the accompanying booklet her testament and credentials for exploring the Scandinavian song treasury; not that anyone should need to justify the adventure - it shows perception not temerity. She tackled this territory after her first visit to Stockholm in 1974. She eventually married a Swede and became a Swedish citizen. She clearly has both affection and respect for Scandinavian audiences and values their seriousness and enthusiasm for music. Her operatic career shows in the strength of her voice but this is not a voice worn threadbare by the high notes. Her vibrato is well under control.

Nielsen is represented by six songs from his two hundred. How short they are; none longer than two minutes. The ones here are all engagingly artless. Perhaps it takes art to produce just that effect. The Holstein setting Aebleblomst shares with the others a mood and manner that is Schubertian, often with a Ständchen-like atmosphere. In Høgen, the song bursts into a manic flurry of wings with an energy comparable to the furious pebbly rush of the piano part in Den første Laerke. Nielsen's lark is no fey avian. On the other hand a more morose world is set forth in Saenk kun dit Hoved.

Of the Grieg songs the famous Varen is delivered at a measured pace - slower than I have heard before. Then comes Med en vandlilje which is mercurial and impulsive after which another Ibsen poem, En svane takes a mournful course which in mood perhaps inspired Sibelius to his own Tuonela swan. There is some highly characteristic writing here for the piano. The prayer-like Solveig's Song is taken as a slow supplication: Solveig calls down blessing on the errant Gynt. This is a major song if ever there was one. Then comes Solveig's Lullaby rising from lulling peace to dramatic affirmation. Grieg wrote the Six German songs Op. 48 striving for 'a broader and more universal vision'. I think he loses some of his distinctiveness in this although things return to strength with the jocose Lauf der welt and the starry lilt of Die Verschwiegene Nachtigall. These are fine songs but Grieg's freshness is not best matched with the German temperament despite the pianistís liberating trills and flourishes in Ein Traum.

Rangström, poet and musician, wrote the words for Stenhammar's cantata Sången. Apart from his four symphonies there is a host of songs. Here we are treated to five of his Bo Bergman settings. The finest of these is Pan, written as were all but one of the others in 1924. It catches in sunny stillness the Scandinavian Mediterranean idyll. Vingar I natten is a tempestuous torrent contrasting with Bon till natten - a much darker song: part funeral march part lullaby.

An aside: the Third Symphony does not merit the dismissive criticism meted out to it by Robert Layton in his otherwise very strong notes for this release.

The Sibelius songs start with the a noble and dramatic sea-swelling reading of Flickan Kom Ifran Sin Alsklings Mote. Illalle chimes with Grieg-like piano figuration and quietly quick singing line which made me wonder how well Hendricks would tackle Luonnotar. Demanten Pa Marssnon is another thoughtful song while Varen flyktar hastigt has a polished cut-glass Chinese atmosphere. Saf Saf Susa vividly conjures the very rustling reeds of which the poem speaks - another example of Roland Pöntinen's exemplary way with this music - very much primus inter pares with Hendricks. Svarta rosor is a psychologically complex song speaking of death, pain and beauty. Hendricks acts it with total engagement and with an operatically vibrant defiance.

The disc ends with Hendricks singing, unaccompanied, a Swedish folk song Som Stjarnan Uppa Himmelen Sa Klar. The picture evoked is of the lover knowing her love will be unreciprocated singing to the starry firmament. It ends in a touchingly crooned vocalise.

This is a superb production in which every care has been taken. All the words are printed with side by side translations into English, French and German.

Fresh and fiery advocacy for Scandinavian songs - famous and not so famous - from an idiomatic ambassador for the genre. I hope there will be more such collections from Hendricks and Pöntinen.

Rob Barnett

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