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CD: Crotchet

Catharinus ELLING (1858 - 1942)
Haugtussa and German Lieder
Haugtussa (Garborg), Op. 52 [9:38]
Elsk [1:27]
Haren [1:41]
Prøve [1:01]
Sporven [1:16]
Raadlaus [3:01]
Vinter-Storm [1:12]
Haugtussa (Garborg), Op. 60 (7-12) [10:01]
Ved Gjaetle-Bekken [2:17]
Elskhugssong [2:20]
Uro [1:06]
Dokka [1:39]
Den, som fekk gløyma [1:26]
Killingdans [1:13]
Somren sovnet i vintrens favn (Bjørnson), Op. 53 [2:51]
Album, Op. 12 [24:31]
Edward (Herder) [2:58]
Süsser Tod (Herder) [2:49]
Frühlingslied (Uhland) [1:17]
Da wo der Fluss (Burns) [2:02]
Wollt er nur fragen! (Burns) [0:50]
Morgens steh’ ich auf (Heine) [1:15]
Vergiftet sind meine Lieder (Heine) [0:59]
Nachts in der Kajüte I (Heine) [2:22]
Nachts in der Kajüte II (Heine) [0:59]
Allnächtlich im Träume (Heine) [2:16]
Wenn ich auf dem Lager liege (Heine) [1:31]
Dämmernd liegt der Sommerabend (Heine) [2:03]
Reinigung (Heine) [3:10]
Ann-Helen Moen (soprano); Gunilla Süssmann (piano)
rec. 22-26 September 2008, Jar kirke, Baerum, Norway
Sung texts and English translations enclosed
SIMAX PSC1236 [47:17]

Experience Classicsonline

Before I got this disc Catharinus Elling was little more than a name in the margin of Norwegian music for me. I can’t remember hearing anything of him before. This disc then was a total surprise. Here is a highly personal and technically well endowed composer with a particular feeling for the interaction between words and music. Every song here seems to have sprung directly out of the poem and the result is not only congenial but feels ineluctable. Basically Elling is no innovator. He is deeply rooted in the Romantic tradition of Schumann and Brahms - and there are worse models - but this may also be the reason for his relative neglect: he was unfashionable even during his active years. A century later we are able to appreciate his compositions for their intrinsic value - they are no longer outmoded documents of a specific period.

And who was he? Catharinus Elling was born in Oslo, where he also died. He was the fourth of seven siblings. His younger brother Aegidius Elling, engineer and inventor, is regarded as the father of the gas turbine. Catharinus studied piano and composition in Leipzig and Berlin. Between 1896 and 1908 he taught at the Music Conservatory in Oslo, whereupon he was organist at Gamlebyen Church until 1926. Parallel with his teaching commission he spent several years collecting and arranging Norwegian folk music. His compositions comprise symphonies, a violin concerto, chamber music, an opera and more than 200 songs.

His deep interest in folk music has, to judge from this disc, made little or no impression on his own compositions. Whereas Grieg’s music can almost always be identified as Nordic or more specifically Norwegian, Elling’s cannot. One reason may be that the intense period of collecting and transcribing folk music took place after he wrote the songs here.

Arne Garborg’s Haugtussa was published in 1895 and both Grieg and Elling set to work on composing their respective song-cycles, as far as is known unaware of each other’s activities. Their versions are not strictly comparable since Elling set twelve of the poems, Grieg only eight and they have just four in common: Elsk (Love), Sporven (The Sparrow), Ved Gjaetle-Bekken (By Gjaetle Brook) and Killingdans (Kid’s Dance). It is interesting to note that the two settings of the last-mentioned have a lot in common, maybe confirming the accuracy in Grieg’s comment that the music was already there in the poem; it only needed to be written down.

Throughout the two groups of Haugtussa one marvels time and again at Elling’s fresh and natural approach to the poems and even though Grieg’s settings are forever established as definitive, Elling’s are worthy alternatives, well worth reviving. Some of the songs also became rather popular and at least Sporven was occasionally sung in recitals until the 1960s.

The Bjørnson setting is also from 1895. It is again at one with the mild melancholy of the poem. This is one of three songs from the novel En dag (One Day), published in 1893.

To yield full benefit of art songs, whether in Norwegian or any other language, it is an advantage to have some knowledge of the language. The English translations here are good but like all translations they are only approximations. This is no doubt the reason why songs in peripheral languages - at least from a Central European point of view - have had difficulty becoming internationally established. From this aspect the German songs Op. 12 might have greater appeal. They were composed in the early 1880s and are little gems, all of them. Heinrich Heine was one of Elling’s most important sources of inspiration at the time - as he was to so many other composers in the 19th century. Elling must have known some famous settings from the earlier part of the century but his own are no pale imitations. They are fresh and inventive, and his melodic vein is striking. Just listen to the simple but beautiful melody that carries Nachts in der Kajüte I forward. It is also interesting to compare his setting of Allnächtlich im Traume with Schumann’s. Schumann is mildly resigned, Elling is darker and more uproarious.

The person who must be given the credit for unearthing these lovely songs is Ann-Helen Moen, who went to the Norwegian National Music Library ‘on a treasure hunt’ as she writes in a note in the booklet. In a pile of scores she came across Elsk from Haugtussa and ‘it was love at first hearing’ - she was sure she had struck gold. With this disc she wants to share those riches with others. That she loves the songs is obvious from the first note, and with her beautiful lyric soprano she has the ideal instrument to convey this love to the listener. And she has enough heft to make also the dramatic songs tell - without ever overtaxing it. At her side she has Gunilla Süssmann, today one of the foremost Norwegian pianists. She makes the most of the often quite intricate accompaniments.

The programme was recorded in agreeable acoustics in a Norwegian church, Jar kirke in Akershus fylke, close to Oslo, a rectangular brick building, erected in 1961. The booklet, as always with Simax, is a model of its kind, with full texts and extensive essays on the composer and the music in Norwegian and English. Those reading the English comments on the music - more specifically on the Op. 12 songs on page 6 - should be warned, however, that the text doesn’t end there. It continues - without reference - on page 21.

This is a lovely recital and it is particularly valuable for rehabilitating Catharinus Elling’s status as composer.

Göran Forsling


 


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