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Else Paaske: A Portrait
Live and studio recordings 1967–1983.
Peter HEISE (1830 – 1879)
Skønne fru Beatriz;
(1850 – 1926)
Genboens første vise, Op. 13, No. 1; Yderst i slaebet, det lette, Op. 48, No. 5; Åkande, Op. 4, No. 2; Dybt i skumring, Op. 20, No. 1; Der sang en fager fugl, no Opus No.; Himlen ulmer svagt i flammenrødt, Op. 19, No. 1;
Claude DEBUSSY (1862 – 1918) Trois Chansons de Bilitis: La flute de Pan; La chevelure; Le tombeau des naiads;
Gudruns sorg: Dengang var Gudrun beredt til døden; Hos sad jarlers aedle hustruer; Da sagte Herborg; Da sagte Gullrønd; En gang Gudrun end ham skued; Da sagte Gudrun;
Johannes BRAHMS (1833 – 1897)
O wüsst’ ich doch den Weg zurück, Op. 63, No. 8; An eine Äolsharfe, Op. 19, No. 5; Ständchen, Op. 106, No. 1;
Alban BERG (1885 – 1935)
Vier Lieder f¨r eine Singstimme mit Klavier, Op. 2: Schlafen, schlafen, nichts als schlafen; Schlafend trägt man mich; Nun ich der Riesen Stärksten; Warm die Lüfte;
Max REGER (1873 – 1916)
Zwei geistliche Lieder, Op. 105: Ich sehe dich in tausend Bildern; Meine Seele ist still zu Gott; from Zwei geistliche Lieder (1900): Wenn in bangen, trüben Stunden, no Op. No.; Geistliches Lied: Wohl denen (1903), no Op. No.;
Johann Sebastian BACH
(1685 – 1750)

Kantate 94 (BWV 94) “Was frag’ ich nach der Welt”: Aria: Betörte Welt, betörte Welt
Francis POULENC (1899 – 1963)
La grenouillère (1930), FP 96; Deux melodies (1956) FP 162: La souris; Nuage; from Quatre poèmes (1931) FP 58: Carte postale; 1904;
Robert SCHUMANN (1810 – 1856)
Liederkreis, Op. 39: In der Fremde; Intermezzo; Waldesgespräch; Die Stille; Mondnacht; Schöne Fremde; Auf einer Burg; In der Fremde; Wehmut; Zwielicht; Im Walde; Frühlingsnacht;
Sulamith og Salomon, Op. 1: Sulamiths sang I vinhaven; Sulamiths sang I skovduelunden; Salomons sang med brevduen; Sulamiths sang på bjergtoppen; Sulamiths sang på bjergene;
Johannes BRAHMS
Die Mainacht, Op. 43, No. 2; Vergebliches Ständchen, Op. 84, No. 4;
Gustav MAHLER (1860 – 1911)
from Des Knaben Wunderhorn: Rheinlegendchen; Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen; Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt;
(b. 1931
Tre sange for alt og klaver, Op. 54: Drømme; Vandring; Blomsterdigt;
Johann Sebastian BACH
Weihnachts-Oratorium (BWV 248): ecitativo: Nun wird mein liebster Bräutigam; Aria: Bereite dich, Zion
Else Paaske (mezzo)
Friedrich Gürtler (piano), Anders Riber (organ)(Reger), Bach-Collegium Stuttgart/Helmut Rilling (Bach Cantata 94), The Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Sir John Eliot Gardiner (Bach Christmas Oratorio)
rec. various locations 1967 – 1983
DANACORD DACOCD 647-648 [74:41 + 74:05]


Danish mezzo-soprano Else Paaske, now in her mid-sixties, has had a long and distinguished career as a concert-singer. Her work as a Lieder-singer was important but she was also a noted oratorio singer. I have no good picture of her recorded output but she was one of many distinguished soloists in Helmut Rilling’s complete cycle of all the cantatas, one aria featuring as the last track on CD1 of this set. Danacord in cooperation with the Danish Broadcasting Corporation have done a good job by putting together this retrospective album from both live concerts and studio recordings. They have concentrated on her lieder repertoire but other important areas had to be left out for technical reasons, Schubert for example. What we have got on two well filled discs, playing for 2½ hours, gives full evidence that here is an important singer, not only as the owner of one of the richest well-schooled voices of the last decades but also as an expressive and penetrating interpreter. Her voice is a true mezzo-soprano which could never be mistaken for a soprano with limited upper range but more contralto-ish. It’s a beautiful rich voice with a perfectly controlled characteristic vibrato. It is used with great sensitivity to the varied requirements of the various songs, and she can be chillingly dramatic with an almost visible intensity.

The recordings cover the period 1967 (when she was 26) to 1983 (when she was a bit past 40) and show her at the height of her powers. The items are presented chronologically, the only exception being the very last items on CD2, the recitative and aria from The Christmas Oratorio, which were set down in 1977. Her voice is excellent and remained remarkably consistent across the decade and a half. One can perhaps sense that her voice expands a little, making it an even fuller and more pliant instrument. Recorded in a variety of venues the sound quality varies a lot but in general it is fully acceptable and often much more than that.

Repertoire-wise the discs have a lot to offer, not least the opportunity to hear important Danish song writers Heise and Lange-Müller as well as present day composer Ib Nørholm, whose Three songs for contralto and piano were written for Else Paaske and premiered by her.

The mixed group of six Lange-Müller songs on CD1 gives a good picture of his fresh melodious idiom and the cycle Sulamith og Salomon to texts by B. S. Ingemann, known also for some much loved Nordic hymns, are lovely, unabashedly romantic songs. Heise’s cycle Gudruns sorg (Gudrun’s sorrow) is central romanticism with a Nordic flavour. They are outgoing, intensely dramatic songs and Ms Paaske’s treatment of them is uninhibited. At the same time she gives the more reflective moments their due. Impressive! Nørholm’s three songs are very varied in character from clear tonality in the first to the use of twelve-tone technique, different methods being applied depending upon the character of the poems, which are all by authors more or less from the composer’s own generation.

In non-Danish repertoire her warm rendering of Debussy’s Bilitis-songs is refreshing to hear. La chevelure is exquisitely done with sensitive accompaniment by her regular pianist Friedrich Gürtler, who is an asset throughout. The Brahms songs on CD1 were recorded in a swimming-bath acoustic and accordingly lose something of their intimacy, but the singing is superb. These and the four Berg songs Op. 2 were recorded live at the Konzerthaus in Vienna and the spaciousness of the sound makes me believe it is in the big hall although that seems unlikely. In spite of the acoustics, her interpretation of the Berg songs is memorable. The last song rises to ecstasy on the words Er kommt noch nicht, Es lässt mich warten ... followed by a bleak Stirb ...

On CD2 she catches the various moods of Poulenc’s songs with secure confidence, underlining the surrealist texts. The real highlight is Schumann’s Liederkreis Op. 39. Schumann’s music and Eichendorff’s words are woven together so perfectly that it is impossible to imagine them in any other way and Paaske’s rendering is congenial. She catches the easy melodic flow of In der Fremde, the intensity of Intermezzo and the ebb and flow of Waldesgespräch. Die Stille is restrained, like keeping a secret. This is also graphically illustrated in the piano accompaniment. In Mondnacht she catches the mysterious atmosphere, the “Blütenschimmer” (flowery shimmer) with beautiful legato singing. Auf einer Burg depicts in very slow-moving phrases the aged knight asleep on his watch, having turned to stone. In sharp contrast the “brooklets murmuring” is very lively in In der Fremde. In Wehmut, the most beautiful of these twelve extremely beautiful songs, she scales down the third stanza, Da lauschen alle Herzen (Then all hearts do listen) to a near-whisper, while in Zwielicht she adjusts her tone to the bleak piano accompaniment. Im Walde is full of joy and, finally, Frühlingsnacht is eager and forward-moving, rejoicing. A masterly interpretation!

There are another couple of Brahms songs, also finely done, but another highpoint is the three songs from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn, where the simple folksong atmosphere is charmingly caught. The piano accompaniment is again something to take delight in, very much so in Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt where Else Paaske also relishes telling her audience about the mock sermon, burlesque but not parody. 

The four ecclesiastical songs by Max Reger, recorded in the warm acoustics of Aarhus Cathedral, remind us that his vocal music has much to offer and should be more often heard. In his songs his often over-sophisticated and over-elaborated style gives way to a simplicity of utterance that goes to the heart. Meine Seele ist still, a setting of Psalm 62, is especially memorable. The organ part, excellently played by Anders Riber, is as chromatic as we have come to expect from Reger.

Each CD is concluded with a Bach aria. On CD1 we hear an aria from cantata 94, culled from the aforementioned Rilling cycle, and here Peter-Lukas Graf’s flute obbligato is worth a rosette of its own. The singing is magnificent. Over-romantic, some may object, but I don’t mind. Bach can’t have wanted this powerful text about “Deluded world! Even your riches, goods, and money is trickery and false appearance ...” to be bloodless, even though he couldn’t have expected his boy alto to be as expressive as Else Paaske, who also sings the aria from the Christmas Oratorio on CD2 with admirable breath control and beautiful tone.

The booklet (56 pages!) has a thumbnail bio of the singer, comments on the music and complete texts and translations. Exemplary! I hope this set will also find listeners outside the Nordic countries. It is well worth it.

Göran Forsling




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