Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Summer song, Op.10/3 [2.26]: Shall flowers then all wither? (from Strophic Songs), Op.21/1a [2.24]: Apple blossom, Op.10/1 [1.43]: Homesickness (from Danish Songs, 1914-17) (arr. Peter Bruun) [4.11]
Now spring is leaping out of bed (from Danish Songs, 1914-17) (arr. Fuzzy) [2.23]
My Jesus, let my heart obtain (from Hymns and Sacred Songs, 1913-14) [2.23]: There sat a fisherman deep in thought (from Popular melodies, 1917-20) [5.56]: On moorland barren (from Hymns and Sacred Songs, 1913-14) (arr. Jens Hørsving) [3.13]
Greeting, Op.10/6 [1.53]: Oft am I glad (from Danish Songs, 1914-17) [3.08]: How wonderful to ponder (from Hymns and Sacred Songs, 1913-14) (arr. Niels Rosing-Schouw) [2.18]
The tender day is light and long (from Springtime in Fünen, Op.42) [2.23]: Like golden amber is my girl (from The Mother, Op.41) (arr. Erik Bach) [2.09]
Look, the sun is red (from Little Danish Songs, 1924) [2.57]: In peace I lay me down to sleep (from Little Danish Songs, 1924) [1.56]: Lay down, sweet flower, your head (from Strophic Songs), Op.21/2a (arr. Jesper Koch) [2.33]
The daffodil (from Hymns and Sacred Songs, 1913-14) [4.13]: We sons of the plains (from Tove, 1908) [4.30]: Two larks in love have nested (from Danish Songbook, 1924) (arr. Jørgen Lauritsen) [1.41]
Jan Lund (tenor), Karen Kriver Zarganis (flute, piccolo, alto flute), Michael Norman (guitar)
rec. Hendriksholms Kirke, Denmark, October 2010
Outside Denmark, Nielsen is best known as a symphonist; but in Denmark itself he is at least equally famed for his many strophic songs, the best-known of which - Jens the road-mender - has achieved a similar status to Vaughan Williams’ Linden Lea (which I once saw described on an LP sleeve as “Traditional”) in Britain. This album contains a number of these popular songs as well as folksong arrangements in versions for voice, flute and guitar, and they work well in this medium. One cannot be purist about such things: Vaughan Williams approved transcriptions of Linden Lea for all sorts of combinations, and one very much doubts that Nielsen would have objected to the translation of these songs into whatever medium suited them.
In fact some of these arrangements are surprisingly elaborate. The vocal line remains unchanged from the voice-and-piano originals, of course; and the guitar part generally reflects closely the not-very-elaborate keyboard writing. But the flute parts range from mildly innocuous arabesques to counterpoints that add a whole new dimension to the music. This may be regarded as development or mutilation, according to your taste. But since the songs are not that familiar outside Denmark, they may be treated by non-Danes as entities in their own right.
The informative booklet notes by Knud Ketting make much of the different approaches of the various arrangers, and indeed there is quite a wide variety of styles on offer here. Conveniently the songs are grouped on the disc in sets to display the talents of each individual arranger, which also has the advantage of avoiding any sudden jarring changes of mood. However neither the booklet or the packaging give any further details of Nielsen’s original songs, which makes comparisons with the originals very difficult indeed, especially when some of the titles are translated differently on various issues; those attributions given in the header to this review entailed considerable research. And some of the items come not from Nielsen’s various volumes of songs but from choral works or incidental music to plays designed for amateur singers. It is hard under these circumstances to keep track of the various items and different translations, but it does not appear that some of the songs included here are currently available in any alternative versions at all.
The arrangements by Peter Bruun and Jørgen Lauridsen are pretty straightforward affairs, and none the worse for that. The slow Shall flowers all then wither? is beautiful in its piano version; but it is heavenly in this treatment by Bruun with the flute floating above the vocal line. The use of varying flute counterpoints helps to overcome any sense of monotony that might perhaps set in with lengthy repetitions of the same melody over a series of verses in a foreign language. Fuzzy’s arrangement of Now spring is leaping is sprightly, with more extended flute interludes which fit well.
The arrangements by Jen Hørsving - described, presumably erroneously, as “Peter Horsving” on the CD back cover - set religious texts with becoming piety; the first eschews the use of the flute altogether. When he does use the flute in There sat a fisherman deep in thought, we hear Nielsen reflected through a more modern sensibility; the flute counterpoint is decidedly modern, and the guitar accompaniment is reduced to a harmonic skeleton over which voice and flute go their own separate ways. The result sounds rather close to Jan Garbarek’s saxophone improvisations over mediaeval motets - a ‘new take’ on Nielsen, but not an unpleasant one, and one which helps to break up seven consecutive repetitions of the strophic melody. The third of these arrangements employs even more modern techniques (overblown flute harmonics, for example) to depict the meeting of Jesus with the Devil; here we take leave of Nielsen’s sound-world altogether, and only the original melodic line remains with what is effectively a completely new accompaniment. The return to more conventional arrangements by Niels Rosing-Schouw comes as quite a shock after this, but the first verse of How wonderful to ponder for voice and flute alone is a real beauty.
Jesper Koch’s treatment of Nielsen is even freer; he takes the original melodies and constructs around them completely new accompaniments with very free roulades and embellishments (at various points employing piccolo and alto flute) which don’t seem to have much to do with the texts of the songs themselves. Knut Ketting’s booklet notes discuss these settings as some length, and suggest that they “perhaps actually achieve a life of their own, independent of the originals.” They are indeed perhaps best approached in that manner. Those familiar with Nielsen’s piano versions may cavil, but Koch does nothing which destroys the inspiration of the original.
Jan Lund is a well-known quantity from other recordings; indeed he has sung the original versions of the items from Tove and Herr Oluf on a collection of Nielsen’s incidental music conducted by Tomas Veto. He sings here with just the right degree of artless simplicity, not trying to make too much of these basically straightforward songs. The flute playing of Karen Kriver Zarganis is excellent, and Michael Norman copes manfully with the reduction of the piano part for guitar even though he could to advantage have been a bit more forwardly balanced. This is a charming, very well contrasted and altogether unexpected collection - a shame it couldn’t have been longer. Oddly enough Jens the road-mender is missing.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
A charming, very well contrasted and altogether unexpected collection.