Eyvind ALNÆS (1872-1932)
Four songs to texts by Nils-Magnus Folcke, Op.34 [9.37]
Four songs to texts by Gustav Fröding and Nils-Magnus Folcke, Op.35: Nos 1 and 2 [6.04]
Three poems by Nils Collett Vogt, Op.29: Nos 1 and 2 [4.27]
Five songs to texts by Robert Burns and Heinrich Heine, Op.6 [11.07]
Three songs to poems by Viggo Stuckenberg, Op.26 [7.30]
Four poems by Herman Wildenway, Op.30: Nos 1 and 4 [8.01]
Six songs to texts by Anders Hoven and A O Vinje, Op.22 [10.51]
Three songs for a middle voice to texts by Nils Collett Vogt, Op.23: No 2 [1.07]
Four songs to texts by Oscar Stjerne and Nils-Magnus Folcke, Op.41: Nos 3 and 4 [2.00]
Ann-Beth Solvang (mezzo), Erling Ragnar Eriksen (piano)
rec. Lille Concert Hall, Bjergsted, Stavanger, 22-24 June 2009
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0124 [63.46]
The first generally available recordings of the music of Eyvind Alnæs came with Kirsten Flagstad’s performances of four of his songs with orchestra. These were made during her Indian summer in the studio with Decca during the 1950s. It is only recently that we have been given the opportunity to hear more of his works, including a splendidly full-blooded Piano Concerto recorded by Piers Lane for Hyperion as part of their series of ‘romantic piano concertos’. The two symphonies which I have not heard were given a warm welcome by Rob Barnett in his review for this site. However an earlier recording of Alnæs songs by Bodil Arnesen and Erling Ragnar Eriksen (again) appears to have succumbed to the deletions axe, so this disc (which duplicates some of the items on that issue) is currently the only CD to offer a conspectus of Alnæs’s songs. Unlike that previous release, this issue contains some complete sets of songs rather than individual items selected from them including many first recordings.
Not that Alnæs’ complete sets of songs seem to have much internal unity, as is witnessed by the somewhat unlikely pairing of Robert Burns and Heinrich Heine in the Op.6 volume – they seem to have been more a matter of convenience for the purposes of publication. They do however confirm Alnæs as one of the more prominent successors of Grieg in the field of Norwegian music, who has been unfairly neglected. His concentration in the medium of songs with piano may raise some parallels with Gerald Finzi in England, although Finzi’s concentration on the lyrics of one poet – Thomas Hardy – gives his song cycles a unity to which Alnæs cannot and does not aspire.
There are some real masterpieces here, including a setting of Burns’s The last Psalm, Op.6/5 (track 13, in German translation) which must be among the best treatments of the Scottish bard ever written. Comprehensive notes by Audun Jonassen give us plenty of biographical detail as well as detailed observations on the songs; but the producers have missed a trick by not giving us the songs in the order of composition, so that the listener can hear the development in Alnæs’s style to which Jonassen draws our attention.
There is another drawback to this re-ordering of the songs, which is that in the Op.34 settings which open the disc Ann-Beth Solvang sounds distinctly small-voiced, and given that she has sung – and recorded – Wagner this suggests that she is adopting a deliberately intimate tone. Later she gives us her full voice and makes the Op.6 settings into a real highlight, but the hint almost of a soubrette does get the disc off to a rather unfortunate start. She is not helped, either, by a rather closely observed recording acoustic which gives the impression of an airless studio which also robs the piano of resonance. One is surprised to note that the recordings were made in a concert hall, which leads one to suspect too close a placing of the microphones. A greater sense of atmosphere around the sound would have been welcome.
Alnæs himself was an acclaimed accompanist - that and his conducting duties restricted his compositional activities - and his piano parts are often surprisingly elaborate. None of this fazes Erling Ragnar Eriksen, who clearly enjoys the splashy handfuls of chords that end many of these songs as well as the filigree harp-like chords in En Vaggvislåt, Op. 41/3 (track 26). Again a greater distance from the microphone might have lent the sound of the instrument more atmosphere. I tried using a graphic equaliser and found that this artificial enhancement helped matters to some extent. The very short Folcke setting En Vår, Op.41/4 (track 27) then brought the recital to a most satisfactory conclusion.
The booklet includes full texts (in Norwegian, Swedish and German) and notes in Norwegian and English. A delightful footnote tells us “The English translations prepared for this booklet do not aim to reflect the poetic qualities of the originals, as will soon be evident; they attempt solely to reflect the meaning. By the same token, some of the originals hardly make more sense than the translations.” Well, by that same token there does not appear to be an abundance of superlative poetry here, but then whoever said that great poetry was required to produce a great song? There really are some very good songs in this collection.
Comparisons with the now-deleted collection of Alnæs songs by Bodil Arnesen hardly seems relevant, but for the record I note here that only two of the songs here are duplicated in that recital: Op.22/3 and Op.26/1. Those who have invested in the earlier release can therefore confidently investigate this new one without fear of much duplication; and in fact Arnesen includes the two songs from Op.30 which are omitted by Solvang.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
There really are some very good songs in this collection.
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