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I skogen - Nordic Songs
Camilla Tilling (soprano), Paul Rivinius (piano)
rec. 2014, Bavaria Musikstudios, Munich, Germany
Texts with English translations enclosed
BIS BIS-2154 SACD [66:21]

BIS have previously released two song recitals with Camilla Tilling, the first with Richard Strauss songs (review), the second with Schubert (review). This third offering is a mixed Nordic programme and just as in the earlier discs Tilling chooses some songs off the beaten track. The opening number, Norden, is from Sibelius’ last group of songs, Op. 90, from 1917 but not published until 1925. The whole opus is dedicated to Ida Ekman, Sibelius's favourite singer who premiered so many of his songs. It is a bleak, chilly song, harmonically quite knotty. It is not heard very often. The Six Songs, Op. 50 are also rather special. They were written together - which none of his previous groups of songs had been - but cannot be regarded as a cycle. They were also one of his first, maybe the first, attempt at setting German texts. His first language was Swedish; he learnt Finnish but most of his songs are settings of poems in Swedish. But since Sibelius during the first decade of the 20th century increasingly was becoming known on the continent his publisher wanted something in an international language. While none of them are among his better known songs, they are well written and attractive. They are also well contrasted. Lenzgesang is light and jubilant and flies by quickly, as befits a spring song. Sehnsucht is one of his most beautiful songs, while Im Feld ein Mädchen singt is a sad evening song. Why? Perhaps her beloved is dead. We don’t get an answer. The red of the evening fades – the willows stand silent – and … the sad song resounds far away. Aus banger Brust is also sad and Die stille Stadt, another depiction of nightfall, is deeply moving. Rosenlied, nervously shuddering with dark undertones, takes us to the grave.

The early Skogsrået (The Wood-Nymph) (1888-89), a setting of a poem by Viktor Rydberg, brings us to a quite different milieu – the world of elves. There is characteristic Nordic tone here and the piano accompaniment is transparent and light. Sibelius was to return to this text with a melodrama and tone poem several years later.

Edvard Grieg also set German texts – and very early at that, when he was barely twenty. The Six Songs Op. 48 were composed much later, in 1884 and 1889. The texts may be German but the music is indisputably Norwegian and also when he sets Walther von der Vogelweide (ca 1170 – 1230) one can sense a scent of Norway, as though the famous Minnesinger has wandered all the way up to the Norwegian mountains. The last song in the group, Ein Traum, is, at least in Scandinavia, usually heard in a translation to Norwegian by Nordal Rolfsen. It is quite often, as here, coupled with the Ibsen setting En svane, and together with a handful of other songs is the crowning glory of Grieg’s song oeuvre. I can’t imagine them being better sung than here.

Denmark has Nielsen, Finland has Sibelius, Norway has Grieg – but who is the corresponding giant in Sweden? Wilhelm Peterson-Berger is one, Hugo Alfvén another and more than one connoisseur would vote for Wilhelm Stenhammar. None of them is head and shoulders above the others but ‘the man in the street’ – at least a couple of generations ago – would certainly vote for the piano music of Peterson-Berger and the orchestral music of Alfvén, while Stenhammar never became the household name he deserved to be. All three composed songs, or 'romanser', as they are called in Swedish, and two of them are represented here.

Stenhammar’s I skogen (In the Forest), which is also the title of the disc, shows him as a quite mature composer in his early twenties. It is melodious and noble, and nobility is probably the word that often comes to mind when I listen to Stenhammar’s music, whether it be piano works, chamber music (his six string quartets are central contributions to the repertoire), orchestral music (his Symphony in G minor and the Serenade in F major can be compared favourably with almost any other orchestral works of the same vintage) or vocal music (his compositions for a cappella choir are masterly). The four songs from his Op. 26 (1908-09) are among his noblest. He was very selective in his choice of texts and here he set poems by some of the greatest of early Swedish poets. Maybe his setting of Nobel Prize Winner Erik-Axel Karlfeldt’s Nattyxne (Butterfly Orchid) is his masterpiece. Here the accompaniment more than nods in the direction of impressionism. The two Bo Bergman poems are folksong-inspired and Det far ett skepp is musically congenial. Jungfru Blond och jungfru Brunett begins in a rather carefree manner, but dark shadows soon creep in, the accompaniment becomes ever more dramatic and then ever more sparse until the music just dies away.

Runeberg´s Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte (The Tryst) is one of Sibelius’ best known songs, but Stenhammar set the poem as early as 1893, eight years before Sibelius wrote his more overtly dramatic version. Stenhammar’s restrained reading is a worthy alternative.

The encore, Alfvén’s Skogen sover (The Forest Sleeps) is no doubt one of the best known Swedish songs, known to international audiences through Jussi Björling’s recitals and recordings. It is a marvellous song and rarely have I heard it sung more inwardly and with such an apprehension of beauty.

Just as a Spanish recital seems exotic to a Scandinavian listener, the Nordic repertoire may probably be just as exotic to the rest of the world but give this disc a try. There are wonderful songs here and they are sung with the utmost delicacy. Camilla Tilling is also fortunate to have the admirable Paul Rivinius at the piano. There is wonderful rapport between them – as on the two previous discs mentioned above – and my final words must be – as on the two previous discs mentioned above: More, please, BIS.

Göran Forsling
Jean SIBELIUS (1865 – 1957)
Norden, Op. 90 No. 1 (text: J.L. Runeberg) [2:34]
Six Songs, Op. 50 [14:23]
1. Lenzgesang (text: A Fitger) [2:34]
2. Sehnsucht (Text: E.R. Weiss) [2:14]
3. Im Feld ein Mädchen singt (text: M. Susman) [3:02]
4. Aus banger Brust (text: R. Dehmel) [2:12]
5. Die stille Stadt (text: R. Dehmel) [2:15]
6. Rosenlied (text: A. Ritter) [1:41]
Skogsrået JS 171 (text: V. Rydberg) [7:01]
Edvard GRIEG (1843 – 1907)
Six Songs Op. 48 [14:13]
1. Gruss (text: H. Heine) [1:07]
2. Dereinst, Gedanke mein (text: E. von Geibel) [2:56]
3. Lauf der Welt (text: J.L. Uhland) [1:37]
4. Die verschwiegene Nachtigall (text: W von der Vogelweide) [3:23]
5. Zur Rosenzeit (text: J.W. von Goethe) [2:33]
6. Ein Traum (text: F. von Bodenstedt) [2:17]
En svane Op. 25 No. 2 (text: H. Ibsen) [2:26]
Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871 – 1927)
I skogen (text: A.T. Gellerstedt) (from Sånger och visor) [2:23]
From Visor och stämningar, Op. 26:
1. Vandraren (text: V. Ekelund) [1:49]
2. Nattyxne (text: E.A. Karlfeldt) [5:55]
5. Det far ett skepp (text: B. Bergman) [1:25]
4. Jungfru Blond och jungfru Brunett (text: B. Bergman) [4:43]
Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte Op 4 No. 1 (text: J.L. Runeberg) [4:58]
Hugo ALFVÉN (1872 – 1960)
Skogen sover Op. 28 No. 7 (text: E. Thiel) [2:49]



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