High, Low or In Between
Svante Henryson (cello)
Katarina Henryson (vocals)
rec. April 2014, Artipelag, Gustavsberg, Sweden BIS BIS-2136 SACD [50:10]
This is something of a departure for BIS: a mix of cello solos and cabaret songs. This husband and wife duo invite you to a dreamily intelligent pilgrimage through freshly re-imagined songs and new instrumentals that track through the borderlands. Katarina Henryson on this evidence is more of a chanteuse than a classical singer. Her chameleon voice is variously evocative of Cathy Berberian, Cleo Laine, Marian Montgomery and the much underestimated and wondrous Rita Connolly. A sophisticated lieder or iron-clad operatic voice would kill these songs stone dead. Katarina Henryson knows best.
Her husband Svante moves with most fluent ease between popular and classical and defies any sense that there is a boundary worthy of notice. His name was familiar to me for good reason even if it took me a while to remember the connection. A CD from the Swedish Intim label (IMCD072) included Henryson's Songs from the Milky Way - a 40 minute concerto for cello and orchestra in six movements. He has also written various other works for this combination including a second cello concerto, two concertos for electric bass and orchestra, Vinterfest overture and a Sinfonia Concertante for orchestra not to mention Amorphicon for steel pans, electric cello and string orchestra. Going by Songs from the Milky Way I would very much like to hear his other music. He has a gift for titles as well: How about Eurydice and Her Underground Dance Routines for soprano saxophone, violin, piano, electric bass and drum set and Mastodonic Recital for narrator, tenor saxophone, piano, electric bass and drum set. This is not Svante Henryson's first foray courtesy of BIS (review).
In Songs from the Milky Way Henryson was the soloist with the Västerås Sinfonietta and Glenn Mossop who has also championed Gösta Nystroem. It's a substantial kinetically vigorous work with a first movement of Celtic keening, chugging strings, a rhythm combo and a Sarabande and Groove that is more modal with some strange middle-eastern skirls that evolve into an epic-heroic processional. There's then a Vocalise with elegiac trumpet - almost pastoral - yet twisted with citric jazz. After a Passacaglia of gloomy introspection the finale - Brutal and Farewell - has the orchestra howling and the percussion protesting while the cello throws its protests down like a battery of steel gauntlets. It’s done spectacularly well provided you have no objections to classical-jazz-rock fusions; you might also try the Gulda Cello Concerto.
If Richard Rodney Bennett can be lauded for his cabaret recitals with Marian Montgomery why not Katarina and Svante Henryson. While I wince at the vocalist's received Americanisms in Kiss and the doo-dahs in A Little Kindness there is so much here to like. I mention a few of these tracks in passing. There's Everybody's got to learn sometimes with its chugging cello recalling Eleanor Rigby. It's very enjoyable despite those whoo-whoo yey-yeys. Svante Henryson's short cello improvisation In between reminded me of Bax's Rhapsodic Ballad. The last three tracks are a cooling delight. All in all, it's a shame about the 50 minute playing time.
This is the sort of album that the gifted Canadian music-writer Jurgen Gothe (1944–2015), who used to have a column in Fanfare magazine, would have rejoiced in. Likewise Robert Cushman whose two Book Music and Lyrics series for BBC Radio 3 did so much with the aim of breaking down those fusty old barriers and opening our ears. Their work has been carried on by Shaun Davey, Charles Gerhardt and John Wilson. With its ice-clear generous-toned sound every depth and height of the Henrysons' voice and cello are well caught. No wonder it received the Nordic Council Music Prize.
Rob Barnett Track Details
1. Elton John Come Down in Time [3:33]
2. Jussi Chydenius We Walk in a Fog [3:45]
3. George Harrison Here Comes the Sun [2:49]
4. Svante Henryson Green (instrumental) [3:56]
5. Katarina Henryson A Little Kindness [3:01]
6. Katarina Henryson, Svante Henryson Eyes of a Child [3:35]
7. Charlie Mingus The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines [2:17]
8. Svante Henryson High (cello improvisation) [1:58]
9. Katarina Henryson I Found the Key [3:18]
10. Paul Simon So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright [3:35]
11. Svante Henryson In between (cello improvisation) [1:28]
12. James Warren Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime [2:50]
13. Prince Rogers Nelson Kiss [3:25]
14. Svante Henryson Low (cello improvisation) [1:23]
15. Ture Gudmundsson Det växer från Edens tider [1:42]
16. Antonio Carlos Jobim Siv Larssons dagbok (Chega de Saudade) [3:00]
17. Bill Evans, Gene Lees Monicas vals (Waltz for Debby) [3:59]