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Gustav NORDQVIST (1886-1949) Jul, jul strålande jul [2:00]
Ivar WIDÉEN Gläns över sjö och strand [1:42]
TRADITIONAL Pris vare gud [1:52]
Agathe Ursala BACKER GRONDAHL (1847-1907) Melodi [2:35]
Anne Sofie von Otter, Bengt Forsberg
Sergei Mikhaylovich LYAPUNOV (1859-1924) Chanteurs de Noels [2:05]
Bengt Forsberg
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) Nu sa kommer julen, Op.1, No.2 [2:00] Giv mig ej glans, Op.1, No.4 [3:02]
Anne Sofie von Otter, Bengt Forsberg
Five Pieces, Op.75 for piano: The Spruce [2:23]
Bengt Forsberg
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907) Julens Vuggesang [2:16]
Anne Sofie von Otter, Bengt Forsberg
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) Blithe Bells [4:00]
Bengt Forsberg
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953) The Cradle in Bethlehem [2:24]
Michael HEAD (1900-1976) The Three Mummers [3:09]
Anne Sofie von Otter, Bengt Forsberg
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) Sussex Mummers Christmas Carol [2:06]
Bengt Forsberg
TRADITIONAL So Blest a Sight [2:54]
Cécile CHAMINADE (1857-1944) Le Noel des oiseaux [2:37]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893) Noel [2:56]
Anne Sofie von Otter, Bengt Forsberg
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) Luonnoksia, Op. 114; Talvikuva [1:44]
Bengt Forsberg
Max REGER (1873-1916) Marias vaggsång (org.Mariae Wiegenlied) [2:21]
Peter CORNELIUS (1824-1874) 6 Weihnachtslieder Opus 8 1. Christbaum [1:31] 2. Die Hirten [2:20] 3. Die Könige
Anne Sofie von Otter, Bengt Forsberg
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, Cantata BWV 147 Jesu bleibet meine Freude (Arranged by Bengt Forsberg) Bengt Forsberg
Joaquin NIN Y CASTELLANOS (1879-1949) Villancicos españolas: Villancico Vasco [1:46]; Villancico Castellano [1:20]; Villancico de Córdoba [2:04]; Villancico Andaluz [1:50]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier, BWV 469 [1:39]
Anne Sofie von Otter, Bengt Forsberg
Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland Bwv 659 [4:22]
Bengt Forsberg
Anne-Sofie von Otter (mezzo)
Bengt Forsberg (piano)
rec. Munich, Residenz, Herkulessal, August 2005
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 572-5 [66:50]
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Anne Sofie von Otter and Bengt Forsberg are old hands at this. Collection after collection of songs have been issued by DG. Their two Scandinavian recitals are treasure trove. The company’s fidelity is handsomely repaid by a singer and a pianist whose intelligence matches their thoughtful artistry. With Von Otter and Forsberg the technical aspects are already encompassed so that each can concentrate on the essence of the music and the words.

Forsberg plays piano solos on seven tracks and Von Otter sings unaccompanied with touching effect on track 3. Indeed the traditional Swedish song Pris vare Gud is a glowing showcase for her vocal art. It showcases her ability to sustain a steady sweet diminuendo without a hint of vibrato. Forsberg builds a majestic edifice from Lyapunov’s Chanteurs de Noel and ends the recital as if some Prospero rounding things with a sleep in the final Bach/Busoni piece.

As usual the Scandinavian songs of which there are seven here emerge fresh as Arctic daisies. In particular Grieg’s Julens Vuggesang has a lovely lulling tolling sway. Forsberg takes the solo in Grainger’s wonderfully seasonal and silvery Blithe Bells. The Quilter song is done with attentive care without being too studied and Von Otter’s English is faultless – not a trace of continental coffee. In the Michael Head song she sounds uncannily like the young Janet Baker. Only once does she falter when the word family sounds as if it is being pronounced famaylay – at least that’s the way it sounds to me. A warm cocoon of bell resonance cloaks the Grainger arrangement of Sussex Mummer’s Christmas Carol. Beautifully harmonised this piece is fresh and freighted with cheerful optimism. That same quality radiates from his slightly pressed ‘take’ on Bach in his own arrangement and performance of Jesu bleibet meine Freude. The Chaminade and Gounod show yet again Von Otter’s breathtaking virtuosity – vying confidently with many names more famous for this repertoire. Listen to the Reger Wiegenlied if you want to hear perfectly poised quiet singing as well as having your assumptions about Reger challenged. The Nin songs are gem-like. They swoon, sway and shudder and strut in the Iberian sun. Otter is brightly arrogant and defiant in Nin’s Villancico Castellano.

I have not heard their earlier seasonal album but on this showing it should also be well worth tracking down: Home for Christmas DG 459 6852.

The insert booklet has an admirably full note from Gunilla Petersén and the original words of the songs are printed in full alongside translations into English.

This disc has to be the discriminating voice-fancier’s hit of the season – not so much because of its seasonal content, although there are plenty of Christmas references, but because Von Otter and Forsberg again show themselves to be triumphantly communicative artists. A sure-fire winner and a collection you can safely buy for yourself or as a stocking-filler for any friends or acquaintances with a love of the human voice and a taste for fare that breaks the conventional mould.

Von Otter and Forsberg ring the seasonal changes in this silvery celebration of a recital.

Rob Barnett


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