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Lil Eva - Selected Norwegian Songs. A Tribute to Eva Sars Nansen.
Agathe BACKER-GRØNDAHL (1847 - 1907)
Halfdan KJERULF (1815 - 1868)
Rikard NORDRAAK (1842 - 1866)
Isa Katharina Gericke (soprano); Christian Ihle Hadland (piano)
rec. 2-4 May 2008, Polhøgda, the home of Eva and Fridtjof Nansen
Full texts and English translations enclosed.
SIMAX PSC 1238 [65:31]
Experience Classicsonline

Agathe BACKER-GRØNDAHL (1847 - 1907)
1. Rav (Amber) [2:06]
2. Sildig (Late at night) [2:19]
3. Valborgsnatt (Walpurgis Night) [2:05]
4. Der skreg en fugl (A bird cried out) [1:41]
5. Mot kveld (Towards Evening) [2:00]
Halfdan KJERULF (1815 - 1868)
6. Vidste du vei (If you but knew the way) [2:11]
7. Lokkende toner (Enticing tunes) [4:30]
Fem Sange af Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Op. 14 (1865)
8. Aftenstemning (Twilight Fancies) [2:07]
9. Søvnen (Slumber song) [2:30]
10. Dulgt kjaerlighed (Hidden affection) [2:27]
11. Ved Søen (By the lake) [2:34]
12. O vidste du bare! (Oh, what could be done!) [3:17]
13. Hvile I skoven (Resting in the woods) [3:00]
14. Syng, syng nattergal du (Sing, sing nightingale blest) [2:50]
15. Aftenstemning (Twilight Voices) [3:19]
Rikard NORDRAAK (1842 - 1866)
16. Treet stod faerdigt med blad og med knop (The tree stood ready with buds and with leaves) [1:22]
17. Tonen (The tone) [3:50]
18. Efter en sommerfugl (Chasing a Butterfly) [1:11]
19. Skjaerer (Magpies) [1:45]
20. Synnøves sang (Synnøve's Song) [2:30]
21. Ingrids vise (Ingrid's song) [1:59]
22. Venevil [2:03]
23. Over de høie fjelde (Over the lofty mountains) [3:19]
Fem blomstervignetter to lyrics by Vilhelm Bergsøe, Op. 23 (1888)
24. Lind (Lime tree) [1:55]
25. Æbleblomst (Apple flower) [1:12]
26. Hvit og blaa Anemone (White and blue Anemone) [2:14]
27. Aakande (Water lily) [1:45]
28. Viol (Viola) [1:28]

Fridtjof Nansen, the Norwegian polar explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is still numbered amongst the most famous and revered Nordic personalities from the last century. Few people today know that he was married to one of the foremost Norwegian singers and a pioneer of the Norwegian song tradition, Eva Sars. She made her debut in 1887, was married in 1889 and until her early demise in 1907, aged only 49, she carried through her career. At the same time she brought up five children - her husband was often away for years at a time. In 1899 she gave the first performance of Grieg's song-cycle Haugtussa. The poet, Arne Garborg, was enthusiastic and wrote to the composer. He in turn recommended Eva Sars as interpreter of the cycle at the inauguration of the National Theatre in 1900. In 1901 the Nansens' new house, Polhøgda in Lysaker, an Oslo suburb, was finished. There she often gave recitals in the specially designed recital room. The present disc was recorded there so the setting is historically correct and the programme mirrors the repertoire that Eva Sars Nansen used to sing at Polhøgda or wherever she appeared.

Among the composers most frequently represented in her recital programmes were the three that figure on this disc. Halfdan Kjerulf is regarded as the father of the Norwegian Lied. He wrote 126 songs and some of the most important were to texts by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, the Norwegian Nobel Prize winner, who was more or less a symbol of Norwegianism. Lokkende toner is an immediately catchy song. Among the Five songs Op.14 Søvnen, is exceptional in its beautiful melody over a billowing accompaniment reminiscent of Bach's first prelude from Das wohltemperierte Klavier: the basis for Gounod's Ave Maria. Likewise there is a delicious ritornell in O vidste du bare! that shows an affinity with Plaisir d'amour.

Agathe Backer-Gröndahl was more of a contemporary of Eva Sars, dying the same year. She became immensely popular during her life-time. By 1947, which saw the hundredth anniversary of her birth, the song Mot kveld had sold more than 60,000 copies. Like those of Kjerulf her songs are wonderfully attractive and show that Grieg was not alone as a great song composer.

Richard Nordraak is, unfortunately, a genius who never came to fruition, due to his early demise. To the general Norwegian he is today known as composer of the National Anthem of Norway, a setting of Bjørnson's patriotic poem. But many of his contemporaries saw his potential, not least Grieg, and these two songs are a worthy memory of a composer whose life was cut short by unfortunate circumstances.

Isa Katharina Gericke and her wholly admirable accompanist Christian Ihle Hadland have chosen a representative group of songs to give an idea of what a recital with Eva Sars Nansen would have sounded like at the turn of the last century. There are no recordings of Eva Sars but written testimony as to her singing exists. I believe that Isa Katharina Gericke is well suited to the task of reviving her art.

She is frankly the best Norwegian singer that I have encountered since I first heard Solveig Kringelborn, or as her original name is Kringlebotn. There is even more of light and shade in her interpretations. In this programme she steps out as the foremost Norwegian song interpreter of the present generation. If Eva Sars had the voice and all the expressive means that Gericke displays on this disc she should have been an exceptional artist indeed. The songs in themselves are wholly attractive. Especially in the Bjørnson settings they far transcend the merely socially presentable. As a whole this is as attractive a collection of Norwegian songs as I have come across for many a year.

I first heard Isa Katharina Gericke as a wholly delightful Solveig on Bjarte Engeset's superb complete recording of Griegs's incidental music for Peer Gynt (review). This recital only confirms that she is a singer who has fully mastered the lyric repertoire. I don't expect ever to hear this repertoire better performed.

Göran Forsling



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