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Kaleidoscope
see end of review for track listing
Maria Forsström (contralto)
Andreas Edlund (harpsichord) (1-6), Matti Hirvonen (piano) (7-24)
rec. 5 October 2010, Lycke church; 17-18 January 2011, Flatås church, Gothenburg, Sweden
Sung texts and translations into Japanese and English enclosed
MUSICA REDIVIVA MRSACD020 [71:32]

Experience Classicsonline


The Swedish contralto Maria Forsström, also church musician, orchestra and choir director, has catholic taste when it comes to vocal music. Bach’s St Matthew Passion and Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody are natural elements in her repertoire and Mahler is especially close to her heart - her previous disc was an all-Mahler programme - but here she invites the listener to a ride through more than four centuries of solo songs. Beginning in Italy, then moving north to Austria and Germany, a little detour to Russia and then southwest-wards to France and after a quick visit to the British Isles, she settles in her native Scandinavia. Linguistically too it is a many-faceted journey and far from being a string of pearls of lollipops the programme is an eye-opener to some rather rarely heard songs.
 
Maria Forsström, who has been active as a singer since 2005, possesses a virtuoso contralto, and it is a true contralto with impressive depth and darkish timbre. It is also well equalized and expansive and the top has a brilliance that any dramatic soprano could be envious about. Most of all it is a voice of immense beauty - beauty that doesn’t exclude expressivity. In other words: this is an uncommonly well endowed singer.
 
The Italian part amply demonstrates what riches there are in early baroque music. Caccini’s elegiac Amarilli has long been a favourite but Non ha’l ciel contanti lumi is a find, quite different with dancing rhythms and joyous coloratura. That Monteverdi is the great vocal composer of the period is well known but Frescobaldi, who died the same year as Monteverdi, is primarily regarded as a composer of keyboard music. The Aria de Passacaglia shows that he was an inspired song-writer as well. His oeuvre contains motets and madrigals as well as a large number of arias, but recordings seem to be rather rare.
 
The late baroque is probably easier to digest for present day listeners and both Caldara and Vivaldi are attractive and melodious. Incidentally Maria Forsström first heard Vedrò con mio diletto, which is an aria from the operaIl Giustino, during a circus performance. ‘The singer sang it while walking the tightrope’!
 
Andreas Edlund accompanies skilfully throughout the baroque section, playing a Japanese harpsichord. Also Matti Hirvonen sticks to a Japanese instrument, a Yamaha. This is probably the reason why there are liner-notes also in Japanese.
 
The evening before I listened to this disc, I heard Die Forelle live, sung with tremendous intensity and theatricality by a bass-baritone and with that reading still fresh in the memory Forsström’s seemed a bit bloodless. Returning to the song a couple of days later I had to revise my opinion. That bass-baritone stands out as something very special but Forsström’s version is a valid reading and probably more in tune with Schubert’s intentions. All the German songs, surely the best known in this recital, are excellently sung. That I want to highlight Schubert’s Ständchen is just to point out how careful with nuances she is. Sampling that track would be enough to tempt most readers to invest in this disc!
 
But there are even better things to come. The two Rachmaninoff are sung with true Slavonic feeling and wonderful voice. At forte it rings out almost like Birgit Nilsson in her heyday, or - to use an even more Scandinavian comparison - Kirsten Flagstad. Here, as in the rest of the songs, Matti Hirvonen is a pillar of strength at the piano.
 
One of the most pleasant is the little delicate Le Colibri by Chausson, sung with the utmost sincerity. Following the very smallest bird with Le Cygne (The Swan) is really a play with contrasts, but Ravel’s swan is still a delicate bird, seen as it were from a distance with the ripple of water in the foreground.
 
Three of Benjamin Britten’s folk-song settings make a nice group and here I must single out The Salley Gardens as the most beautifully sung version I’ve heard. The short nursery rhyme Oliver Cromwell is lively and really naughty - listen to the piano! Another gem.
 
Opening the Scandinavian group is Runeberg’s Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte - generally known in English as The Tryst. This time it isn’t Sibelius’s setting, though, but Wilhelm Stenhammar’s. I have always found his version just as inspired as the Finnish master’s. I thought I knew Peterson-Berger’s songs but Att sorg du mig gjort (That you caused me pain) from Ur en kärlekssaga Op. 14 was a new acquaintance - at least I couldn’t find it in my fairly large collection. It is well worth a listen.
 
Arne Garborg’s Haugtussa (1896) is regarded as his masterpiece and Grieg’s settings of eight of the poems have claims to be his masterpiece too, even though there are other songs that have become more popular. Many are the singers, mostly Scandinavian, who have made successful recordings, including Kirsten Flagstad. Maria Forsström’s readings of two of the songs are so good - rhythmically alluring (Møte) with a feeling of an evergreen by, say, Gershwin; lively and glittering (Killingdans) - that I hope that for her next disc she will give us the complete cycle.
 
Finally two songs by Sibelius: Se’n har jag ej frågat mera (Since then I have questioned no further) a Runeberg setting, and the intensely dramatic Svarta rosor (Black roses) by Ernst Josephson, one of the most important Swedish painters but also a poet. The latter song, magnificently sung, is a worthy conclusion to this varied and fascinating and superbly executed disc. The recording is faultless.
 
Göran Forsling
 
Track listing
Giulio CACCINI (c.1545 - 1618)
1. Non ha ’l cotanti lumi [2:47]
2. Amarilli [2:37]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567 - 1643)
3. Ego flos campi [3:15]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583 - 1643)
4. Aria de Passacaglia [3:08]
Antonio CALDARA (1670 - 1736)
5. Selve amiche [3:23]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741)
6. Vedrò con mio diletto [5:13]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 - 1828)
7. Die Forelle [2:20]
8. Ständchen [3:46]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810 - 1856)
9. Widmung [2:07]
10. In der Fremde [1:54]
Hugo WOLF (1860 - 1903)
11. Kennst du das Land [6:12]
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873 - 1943)
12. V molchani mochi laynoy [2:51]
13. O, ne grusti po mne! [3:00]
Ernest CHAUSSON (1855 - 1899)
14. Le Colibri [2:54]
Maurice RAVEL (1875 - 1937)
15. Le Cygne [3:15]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913 - 1976)
16. Come you not from Newcastle [1:38]
17. The Salley Gardens [2:36]
18. Oliver Cromwell [0:49]
Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871 - 1927)
19. Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte [4:37]
Wilhelm PETERSON-BERGER (1867 - 1942)
20. Att sorg du mig gjort [2:59]
Edvard GRIEG (1843 - 1907)
21. Møte [3:48]
22. Killingdans [1:54]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865 - 1957)
23. Se’n har jag ej frågat mera [2:13]
24. Svarta rosor [2:08]

 


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