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Poul Rovsing OLSEN (1922-1982) Songs
Bruun Hyldig Duo (Hetna Regitze Bruun (mezzo-soprano), Kristoffer Hyldig (piano))
Elvira Josephine Toquer Bruun (girl soprano)
Steffen Bruun (bass)
Ulla Miilmann (flute)
rec. Lerchenborg Castle, August 2015 & June 2016
Sung texts enclosed with English translations; the English texts translated into Danish
World premiere recordings, except tr. 13-14. DACAPO 8.226078 [67:08]
I don’t believe that Poul Rovsing Olsen is especially well-known in Sweden, even though he set some Swedish poetry. He studied with Knud Jeppesen in Copenhagen in the early 1940s and then in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen. He then worked as a music critic in Copenhagen. Bartok, Stravinsky and Nielsen were his main influences but in the 1950s he approached 12-tone serialism. Later his work as a musical ethnologist – he studied the music of Greenland and the Persian Gulf – made imprints on his compositions. He wrote music in most genres but the general opinion of his oeuvre seems to be that vocal music, and in particular songs was the field where he was heard at his best. I’ve not been able to certify that the contents of the present disc encompass his whole production in this field, but probably it does.
What one can identify at once when listening to his songs is that he has an unusual feeling for the connection between words and music. They seem to be steeped in the same stock. Appreciating songs in translation is always hazardous but being Scandinavian I can savour the Danish and Swedish poems without problems and being decently at home in English, German and French I feel that those poems are supply transferred to music. Evidently Olsen was a multi-linguist and I am impressed by his ability to find the suitable expression for each song.
Lyse sange (Light Songs) from 1951 are attractive miniatures with expressive piano accompaniment. In the third song the text paints a picture of a reluctant spring that hasn’t given in in spite of the fact that autumn is here, and the piano underlines the frenzy. The fourth song, ‘Cloud moon’, is an idyll: The round moon sails, shrouded, drowning in a lake of clouds.
Two groups of Blake-settings follow. The first group sets poems from Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794) and Notebook (c. 1793). My Pretty Rose-Tree is deceptively beautiful: “… my Rose turn’d away with jealousy. And her thorns were my only delight”. ‘The Sick Rose’, one of the best-known of Blake’s poems, has been dressed in a folksong like melody, but the knotty accompaniment tells us about “the invisible worm that flies in the night, in the howling storm”. The Two Prophetic Songs (1950) are dark and intense. ‘The Garden of Love’ is shut and “filled with graves, and tomb-stones where flowers should be” and in the second song the poet urges the Lamb of God to “take away the remembrance of Sin!” These are really strong compositions. Dark too are the two Rilke settings from 1955-56, and the darkness is intensified by the employment of the bass voice.
The two songs to texts by Pär Lagerkvist are the only ones that have been previously recorded. The first poem is from Ångest (Anguish) (1916), possibly his gloomiest collection with death an almost constant motif. The music is lugubrious and dissonant. The second poem, from the collection Den lyckliges väg (The Way of the Happy One) (1921) is the very opposite. ‘Som ett blommande mandelträd’ (Like an almond tree in blossom) is a frequently set poem, and Olsen’s music is light, jubilant and often melismatic. This is one of his most accessible songs.
The two Baudelaire settings are late compositions, written only the year before he passed away, and they are quite different from the earlier songs. ‘Parfum exotique’ has a recitative like vocal line and very sparse, almost fragmentary accompaniments. ‘De profundis’ opens with dark, powerful chords but then returns to the lapidary, fragmentary sparseness of the previous song.
Aftonsånger (Evening Songs) (1954) contains settings of poems from Pär Lagerkvist’s last collection of poems Aftonland, published the year before. The poet had two years earlier been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, he was a little past 60 and occupied with the evening of life. There is darkness and shadows in the poems and this is of course reflected in the vocal line but the flute (there is no piano in these songs) sheds light over the darkness, like a morning bird bringing comfort to the abandoned soul. For me these songs left the deepest impression of them all. I will certainly return to them!
The three Danish songs are rather light in tone, in the second of them, in ‘Havens Morgen’ (Garden Morning), one hears the dew dripping in the gossamer like accompaniment, and the third is decidedly jazzy.
The concluding group of five songs, composed between 1941, when Olsen was still a teenager, and 1956, are rather simple and light-hearted. The first two are sung very attractively by girl soprano Elvira Josephine Toquer Bruun. ‘Heden’ (The Heath) is beautiful and folksong-like, maybe inspired by Carl Nielsen’s many songs, and the cradle song and Pierrot’s song are charming.
The singing throughout is full of character and Hetna Regitze Bruun, who has the lion’s share of the songs is truly expressive, as is Steffen Bruun in the songs for a deep voice. Kristoffer Hyldig‘s accompaniments are expertly performed and I must commend Ulla Miilmann for her exquisite flute playing in the Evening Songs. The wide scope of the poems – in Danish, Swedish, German, French and English – should appeal also to international listeners and the songs are for the most part deeply emotional. Poul Rovsing Olsen may be an unknown name to many but his songs are well worth attention and performed with obvious affection as they are here they should be a welcome addition to many song lovers’ collections.
Track Details: Lyse sange (Light Songs), Op. 19 (1951) [8:16]
(Poems by Mogens Garde)
1. No. 1 ‘Postkort’ [1:08]
2. No. 2 ‘Du’ [2:00]
3. No. 3 ‘Efterår’ [1:27]
4. No. 4 ‘Skymåne’ [3:41] Four Songs, Op. 7 (1946-47) [5:33]
(Poems by William Blake)
5. No. 1 ‘My Pretty Rose-Tree’[1:28]
6. No. 2 ‘The Blossom’ [1:08]
7. No. 3 ‘Love’s Secret’ [1:41]
8. No. 4 ‘The Sick Rose’ [1:16] Two Prophetic Songs, Op. 16 (1950) [6:02]
(Poems by William Blake)
9. No. 1 ‘The Garden of Love’ [2:31]
10. No. 2 ‘Come, O Lamb of God’ [3:31] To tyske sange (Two German Songs), Op. 36 (1955-56) [5:56]
(Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke)
11. No. 1 ‘O Leben, Leben’ [2:11]
12. No. 2 ‘Liebeslied’[3:45] To Lagerkvist-sange (Two Lagerkvist Songs), Op. 15 (1949) [4:13]
(Poems by Pär Lagerkvist)
13. No. 1 ‘Dina ögon’ [2:08]
14. No. 2 ‘Som ett blommande mandelträd’ [2:05] Deux mélodies, Op. 84 (1981) [8:02]
(Poems by Charles Baudelaire)
15. No. 1 ‘Parfum exotique’ [4:22]
16. No. 2 ‘De profundis’ [3:40] Aftonsånger (Evening Songs), Op. 30 (1954) [12:20]
(Poems by Pär Lagerkvist)
17. No. 1 ‘Skuggor skrider’ [2:38]
18. No. 2 ‘Övergiven’ [4:01]
19. No. 3 ‘Ökenlandet vid de dödas sjö’ [3:25]
20. No. 4 ‘Omgiven av tomhet’ [2:16] Tre danske sange (Three Danish Songs), Op. 39 (1957) [7:39]
21. No. 1 ‘Under måneskåret’ (Mogens Garde) [2:36]
22. No. 2 ‘Havens morgen’ (Paul la Cour) [1:41]
23. No. 3 ‘En ublodig sang om Haervejen’ (Frank Jaeger) [3:22] Små sange (Little Songs), Op. 37 (1941-56) [9:07]
24. No. 1 ‘Mis Kraesenkat’ (Anne Jacobi) [0:35]
25. No. 2 ‘Hua-Hua’(Anne Jacobi) [0:28]
26. No. 3 ‘Heden’ (Steen St. Blicher) [3:58]
27. No. 4 ‘Marias vuggesang’ (Preben Thomsen) [1:33]
28. No. 5 ‘Pjerrots vise’ (Gustav Lehrmann) [2:33]