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Edvard GRIEG (1843 – 1907)
Songs
Sex digte af Henrik Ibsen, Op. 25 (1876) [14:03]:
Spillemaend [2:28] En svane [2:25] Stambogsrim [1:47] Med en vandlilje [2:14] Borte! [1:49] En fuglevise [2:49]
Sechs Lieder, Op. 48 (1889) [15:34]:
Gruß [1:09] Dereinst, Gedanke mein [3:05] Lauf der Welt [1:38] Die verschwiegene Nachtigall [3:45] Zur Rosenzeit [3:08] Ein Traum [2:21]
Haugtussa, Op. 67 (1898) [28:27]:
Det syng [4:02] Veslemøy [2:48] Blåbaer-Li [2:59] Møte [4:16] Elsk [2:43] Killingdans [2:01] Vond Dag [2:52] Ved Gjaetle-Bekken [6:13]
Hjertets melodier (four songs), Op. 5 (1864-65) [6:00]:
To brune Øjne [1:13] En Digters Bryst [1:32] Jeg elsker Dig [1:33] Min Tanke er et maegtigt Fjeld [1:22]
Prinsessen, EG 133 (1871) [3:44]
Katarina Karnéus (mezzo); Julius Drake (piano)
rec. All Saints Church, East Finchley, London, 10-12 December 2007
Sung texts and English translations enclosed
HYPERION CDA67670 [67:54]
Experience Classicsonline

The aftermath of Grieg year still produces new recordings and the present disc was actually recorded during 2007. Just a couple of months ago I reviewed the last instalment in Finnish mezzo-soprano Monica Groop’s traversal of the complete Grieg songs. On my shelves I also have a splendid CD with some of the above material with Swedish mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter (DG) and here comes another Swedish mezzo, Katarina Karnéus, many years resident in Britain: three Nordic mezzos - none of them Norwegian. To get a Norwegian singer one has to turn to Kirsten Flagstad, but then we are in the historical field, or Bodil Arnesen who recorded a splendid Grieg disc for Naxos some ten years ago. Grieg’s wife, Nina, née Hagerup, was a soprano and it was her voice the composer had in mind so perhaps Bodil Arnesen is the best suggestion for readers who want to hear what Grieg expected. In my collection I also have two CDs with Swedish baritone Håkan Hagegård and an LP with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, so there is a wide choice and other singers have devoted themselves to Grieg songs on mixed recitals. None of the records mentioned here has an identical programme to that offered by Ms Karnéus, but von Otter sings Haugtussa as well as the Sechs Lieder, Op. 48 and Monica Groop on volume I of her complete set on BIS has Haugtussa, Hjertets melodier, Op. 5 and Sex digte af Henrik Ibsen, Op. 25, so it seems logical to select these mezzos for comparison.
 
Karnéus made her first recording in the EMI Debut series in 1999 with a programme, including songs by Mahler, Richard Strauss and Joseph Marx. This was a superb debut that I have played frequently ever since. She has probably deepened her interpretations after that but she was an accomplished interpreter from the beginning, pairing understanding of the texts with beauty of tone. It is possible to notice some changes in the voice production, which does not necessarily imply that it has deteriorated. There is however a slightly harder tone, the vibrato is somewhat wider and once or twice there is a tendency towards shrillness, most obvious perhaps in the intensely sung Ein Traum. In the operatic field she has taken on some quite heavy roles, not least Brangäne in the Glyndebourne Tristan und Isolde, and such fare sometimes takes its toll. Interpretatively she works with dramatic build-ups of the songs, which is apparent in the very first, Spillemaend. It is shaped as one long crescendo leading to a shattering climax on the last phrase of the third stanza: ‘var hun min broders brud’ (she was my brother’s bride). She scales down admirably in the lyrical En svane, while Med en vandlilje radiates power and nervous energy. In Borte! her voice is filled with emptiness – maybe this wording is a contradiction in terms. She catches the varying moods in En fuglevise, which has an idyllic touch from the outset but Ibsen’s poems are many-faceted and Grieg is very responsive to this.
 
The Sechs Lieder, Op. 48, with settings of among others Heine and Goethe, are excellent throughout and especially Goethe’s Zu Rosenzeit is wonderful. Bodenstedt’s Ein Traum, is more often sung in a Norwegian translation, at least by Nordic singers, but here we get the original, which is intense but, as I said, rather shrill.
 
The cycle Haugtussa, with settings of verses from Arne Garborg’s verse-novel of the same title, is by many regarded as one of Grieg’s greatest compositions. The piano accompaniments have more than a touch of impressionism about them but the vocal part has a typical Norwegian tinge. Karnéus has an enviable ability to sustain the intensity throughout a song and she impresses greatly here. Elsk (Love) is especially lovely but so is the jolly Killingdans and the melancholy Vond Dag (Hurtful day), sung with restrained beauty. In comparison with her mezzo colleagues she chooses rather leisurely tempos and is close to Kirsten Flagstad, which is no bad model.
 
Hjertets melodier, four settings of poems by H C Andersen, are early songs and Jeg elsker Dig is probably Grieg’s best known song. It is short, only a single verse in the original and that’s the way it is sung here, but that’s the case with all my comparisons. In To brune Øjne the slight hardness of tone is apparent, but En digters bryst is dramatically intense and one can anticipate a great Wagner singer. Jeg elsker Dig, on the other hand, is so scaled down that it begins close to a whisper and instinctively one leans forward to catch every syllable, but then it grows impressively. Min tanke er et maegtigt Fjeld is overt passion from beginning to end. As an encore we are offered another early song, Prinsessen – a Bjørnson setting with fairytale atmosphere.
 
Julius Drake is the ever reliable and inspirational accompanist, the recording is first-class and Grieg specialist Robert Matthew-Walker’s notes are excellent.
 
Recommendation? Those who want exactly this programme need not hesitate: Katarina Karnéus is a safe bet. Anne Sofie von Otter is outstanding if one wants the Op. 48 songs but were I starting a Grieg collection I choose Monica Groop, who fifteen years ago when she recorded volume one was in superior vocal fettle. For a varied and fresh and inexpensive soprano recital Bodil Arnesen’s Naxos disc is hard to beat.
 
Göran Forsling
 

 


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