Wilhelm PETERSON-BERGER (1867-1942)
Arnljot - opera (excerpts) (1910) (Introduction Act I - Arnljot's Greeting Song; Thing March; Waino's First Song; Gunhild and Arnljot - Encounter in the Wilderness; Waino's Second Song; Arnljot's Dream Vision; Tormod's Song; The Death of Arnljot) [53:14]
Erland Hagegård (baritone) - Arnljot; Karin Langebo (soprano) - Waino; Edith Thallaug (mezzo) - Gunhild; Björn Asker (baritone) - Tormod; Kåge Jehrlander (tenor) - Sigurd; Male Chorus of Stockholm Philharmonic Choir; Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Okko Kamu
rec. 16-18 May 1973, Stockholm Concert Hall, Sweden. ADD
first issued on LP - EMI Sweden E061-34925.
STERLING CDO-1082-2 [53:14]

This is a reissue of a Swedish EMI LP and offers highlights from Peterson-Berger’s Arnljot. It presents a tempting fifty+ minutes from the epic in good sound, and with fine notes.

With one exception, which I find odd but which doesn’t materially affect things, the excerpts run sequentially. This is the Act II Scene 9 Encounter in the Wilderness, which arrives immediately before the same act’s Scene 7, Waino’s Second Song. It’s a bit reminiscent of the shuffling about that sometimes went on in the days of 78s but thinking about it I assume it was originally done to balance the LP sides as Scene 9 is about ten minutes in length; no such problems exist on CD so why not just reverse things?

Let’s skip the plot, a saga that would probably take as long to relate as the opera takes to run. It’s got the full of complement of love and death, the coming of Christianity, and what have you. The Act I introduction sets the scene: nature horns and the allure of a rich string cantilever and then an open hearted greeting sound - sung by Erland Hagegår, who is the hero Arnljot. The Thing March is solemnly stalking and gathers in ceremonial splendour. Karin Langebo takes the part of Waino and her first song is attractive but brief. Wagner looms over much of this, explicitly in that Encounter in the Wilderness - both orchestrally and in the speech patterns; these at least are contrasted with more lightly sprung lyric Nordic moments. These verge, it must be said, on the Light Music fringe. I happen to like Light Music, though whether it sits well here is another question.

Langebo has another opportunity to shine in her second song where there’s a youthful gleam to the vocal line. Better still is Act II’s dream vision with its burnished orchestral writing and the nobility of the writing for voice. Tormod’s Song opens up with proto-MGM brio though baritone Björn Asker struggles slightly in the higher reaches of the tessitura. The longest track is the last - interesting stylistically for the way Peterson-Berger lays a carpet of ceremonial into which he dares to infiltrate some good old fashioned Italian bel canto.

There’s a dual language (Swedish/English) libretto. It’s certainly a good enough work to have had a full recording by now.

Jonathan Woolf