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Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Songs for choir
Track-list at end of review
Ars Nova Copenhagen/Michael Bojesen
rec. 8-10 May 2014, Gl. Vor Frue Kirke, Roskilde, Denmark
Reviewed as a 24/88.2 download
Pdf booklet includes sung texts in Danish and English
DACAPO 6.220569 SACD [63:31]

The double Mahler centenary in 2010-11 and Richard Strauss’s in 2014 swelled a catalogue already bloated with recordings of these composers’ works. Nielsen is not nearly so well represented on record or in the concert hall, so he really deserves a boost in this, the 150th anniversary of his birth. Having just reviewed the final instalment in Alan Gilbert’s Nielsen symphony cycle with the New York Philharmonic I then stumbled upon this collection of the composer's a cappella works from the splendid Ars Nova Copenhagen. I last encountered this choir on a disc of choral pieces by another Dane, the off-the-wall but always entertaining Pelle Gudmundsen-Holgreen (review).

The conductor on that CD was the much-respected choral conductor Paul Hillier; this time round it’s Michael Bojesen, well-known in his native Denmark as a conductor, composer and teacher. He may not have Hillier’s international reputation, but it only takes a few minutes to realise that he’s every bit as refined, subtle and assured as his British counterpart. The songs here are what Jens Cornelius in his excellent liner-notes refers to as ‘folk high-school songs’, a sort of gebrauchsmusik for communities to sing. This genre is distinct from folk-songs in the more traditional sense.

In my Gudmundsen-Holmgreen review I characterised Ars Nova Copenhagen’s sound as ‘rarefied and superbly focused’; and so it is here. From the start I was captivated by the simple beauty of these Nielsen pieces, recorded in the rich, glowing acoustic of the Old Church of Our Lady, Roskilde. This 11th-century edifice seems ideal for choral works, as it does nothing to muddy Ars Nova’s fine articulation and superior blend. Honestly, there are few lovelier sounds than a Nordic choir on song as it were, and this is one of the very best. On the face of it this repertoire may seem a little unvaried, but listen closely and their rhythmic vitality and subtle word painting tell a very different story.

As one would expect from Dacapo the engineering is first-rate; the choir's ideally balanced and the sound is utterly natural right across the range; if only all such collections were this well recorded. The sung texts – in Danish and English – are reproduced in the well-designed and very informative booklet; some of the translations may seem a tad unwieldy but their atmosphere and intent are easy enough to divine. If you don’t know vocal Nielsen apart from, say, the delightful Springtime in Funen, now’s the time to make amends. I’m so glad I did.

Ardent, apple-cheeked repertoire lovingly sung; a cappella choirs don’t come much better than this.

Dan Morgan

Nu er dagen fuld af sang (Now the day is full of song), CNW 213 (1914) [2:17]
Frydeligt med jubelkor (Jubilation, shouts of glee), CNW 375 (1906) [2:26]
Påskeblomst! hvad vil du her? (Easterbloom! Why are you here?), CNW 361 (1910) [4:58]
Vi sletternes sønner har drømme i sind (We, sons of the plains carry dreams in our minds), CNW 147 (1907-1908) [4:20] f
Havet omkring Danmark (Seas surrounding Denmark), CNW 146 (1907-1908) [2:42]
I solen går jeg bag min plov (In shining sun I steer my plough), CNW 129 (1895-1896) [2:32]
Nu skal det åbenbares (This is the revelation), CNW 261 (1922) [3:20]
Nu lyser løv i lunde (The greenwood leaves are light now), CNW 256 (1921) [2:28]
Se dig ud en sommerdag (Look about one summer day), CNW 221 (1914) [2:23]
Frihed er det bedste guld (Freedom is the purest gold), CNW 255 (1919; arr. 1921) [3:56]
Som en rejselysten flåde (There’s a fleet of floating islands), CNW 237 (1920) [5:30]
Udrundne er de gamle dage (Gone are the days, they’re past and olden), CNW 253 (1917) [2:05]
Der sad en fisker så tankefuld (There sat a fisherman deep in thought), CNW 244 (1919) [4:44]
Du danske mand! af al din magt (Sing, Danish man! With all your might), CNW 288 (1906) [2:30]
På det jævne, på det jævne! (Simple-rooted, simple-rooted!), CNW 238 (1921) [4:18]
Derfor kan vort øje glædes (Wherefore do our eyes feel pleasure), CNW 239 (1919) [2:20] Tunge, mørke natteskyer (Heavy, gloomy clouds of night), CNW 250 (1917) [3:04]
Hvem sidder der bag skærmen (Who’s there behind the shelter), CNW 137 (1907) [3:49]
Betragt mit svage spind (Behold my web, how frail), CNW 254 (1921) [1:26]
Den danske sang er en ung, blond pige (The Danish song is a fair young maiden), CNW 271 (1926) [2:24]