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Poetic and Romantic Songs
Iwa Sörenson (soprano)
Lennart Hedwall (fortepiano, piano)
rec. Musikmuseet, Stockholm, 1982 (tr. 1-6); Sveriges Radio, Studio 2, 1984 (tr. 7-24) and 1986 (tr. 25-38)
Sung texts with English translations enclosed STERLING CDA1819-2 [74:05]
There are two categories of Swedish songs here: early romantic from the mid-19th century and ‘modern’ composers from the mid-20th century. Both categorisations must be modified, and I’ll come back to that but what is common for all 38 songs in this collection is that they are short – only one exceeds three minutes and more than half of them have a playing-time of less than two minutes. It is fair to call them miniatures. All the songs have been available on LP before and it is good to have them back now in CD-format, licensed from Bluebell.
Carl Jonas Love Almqvist is regarded as one of the greats in Swedish literature, but he was a true polymath. He worked for many years as teacher, founded his own school and was headmaster with new pedagogical methods, he wrote schoolbooks, he wrote religious and philosophical books and worked on an extensive collection, titled The Thorn Rose Book, where he wanted to put together prose, poetry, pictures, music and scripts in what is often called Gesamtkunstwerk. He was a true romantic but also became the first realist in Swedish literature. His Songes (Dreams) were small poems that he himself set to music. Some of them have become very popular and are frequently performed. They were collected and published in 1849. Musically they are rather simple – Almqvist had no formal musical training but he had musical instincts and Songes still seem rather modern or, if anything, timeless. Iwa Sörenson sings these a cappella songs very beautifully, simply, and lets the music speak for itself. Elisabeth Söderström recorded some of them back in the 1950s and that recording has been my bread and butter ever since, but Sörenson has even more of the innocent simplicity that seems ideal for this music.
Adolf Fredrik Lindblad was a few years younger than Almqvist and he became one of the most popular composers of his time, primarily for his songs, many of them to his own texts. But his aim was to become a ‘real’ composer with Beethoven as his model. He wrote some chamber music and also two symphonies. But the public wasn’t ready for this kind of music, just as Berwald also found little response for his symphonies. So Lindblad had to relinquish his plans to earn his living as a ‘serious’ composer and devoted himself to the production of more than 200 songs. All of them haven’t stood the test of time, but many are well worth rescuing from oblivion. And several singers have contributed to that, including Elisabeth Söderström and Catharina Olsson. But neither of them recorded as many as Iwa Sörenson, 18 songs. And they are melodious and attractive. En sommardag (tr. 7) is no doubt the best known of them, but there are little gems galore here, and they are not always carefree and idyllic. Several of them mirror his unrequited love to the famous soprano Jenny Lind (tr. 8, 11, 14 and possibly 17), a couple are religious meditations (tr. 14 and 21) and the gloomy Runeberg setting Höstkvällen (tr. 18) is truly serious. All these songs are expertly accompanied on a fortepiano by Lennart Hedwall, who also wrote the deeply informative liner notes.
For the remaining songs he changes instrument to a modern grand. And here we meet composers active during the 20th century and, when it comes to Kerstin Jeppsson, still active. Torbjörn Iwan Lundquist wrote a lot of film music during the 1950s and 60s. Nils Holgerssons underbara resa, based on Selma Lagerlöf’s novel, should be the internationally best known, but he was an important symphonist – his first presented in 1956 and his breakthrough was in 1976 with his third symphony, Sinfonia dolorosa. His seventh symphony from 1990 was subtitled In memoriam Raoul Wallenberg, Folke Bernadotte and Dag Hammarskjöld. Sex små sommarsånger (Six small summer songs) to old Swedish poems, from which the three songs on this disc are culled, were written in 1949, and they are simple and melodious and permeated by a personal style.
Ingemar Liljefors was a generation older than Lundquist. He was the son to composer and conductor Ruben Liljefors, whose music is featured on a Sterling disc, and father to conductor and violinist Mats Liljefors. He is represented here by three settings of Hjalmar Gullberg, a Swedish poet whose poetry has attracted many composers. These three poems are derived from a collection of poems, titled Andliga övningar (Spiritual Exercises), published in 1932. Within that collection is a suite titled Den utvalda (The chosen one), and these songs are from that suite. Ture Rangström set that suite for voice and orchestra in the late 1930s, and parts of it were included in a disc with Margareta Dellefors, which I reviewed quite recently. I presume that Liljefors’ songs also were composed in the 1930s. They are deeply involving and has a very tangible intensity, in particular the third of them, Soluppgång (Sunrise) (tr. 30). According to Hedwall’s notes there are more Gullberg songs by Liljefors, and it would be very interesting to hear those too.
In the late 1940s some progressive musicians formed the influential “Monday Group”, which functioned as trend-setters for the new music after WW2. Among the members were choral conductor Eric Ericson, pianist Hans Leygraf, musicologist Bo Wallner and composers Karl-Birger Blomdahl, Sven-Erik Bäck and Sven-Eric Johanson, The latter two are represented here with early songs. Bäck composed his Tre kinesiska dikter (Three Chinese Poems) as early as 1945 in translations by Erik Blomberg, a poet that also inspired many composers through his expressive language. The aching beauty of the songs may come as a surprise for those who only know his later atonal music. His colleague Sven-Eric Johanson was a profile also visually, with conscious Salvador Dali-looks. He adopted the twelve-tone principle, and the two settings of poems by Bo Setterlind, written in 1949 and 1952, are based on strict dodecaphony. This in itself can be like a red rag to some listeners, but unawares of the principle behind the composition of the songs, one can’t help enjoying them enormously. Principles are principles, but they are uninteresting for the general listeners, as long as the result is palatable.
Remains now the last and youngest composer, Kerstin Jeppsson (the spelling of her family name has double-s in all the sources I’ve seen). Born in 1948 she studied composition in Stockholm with Maurice Karkoff and later in Krakow with Krzysztof Penderecki. Her Kvinnosånger (Women’s Songs), are early works, composed in 1973. They are short, epigrammatic and intensely dramatic with the piano part carrying much of the substance independently. My only previous acquaintance with Kerstin Jeppsson’s music is a piano piece from 1980, En dröm (A Dream). There is intensity there as well, but of a more recessed kind, most of the action takes place in the descant, glittering, and often with a lot of space between the notes. Silence is important. Her songs made me wish to hear more of her.
Iwa Sörenson was one of the most versatile of lyric sopranos during the last two decades of the 20th century, when I heard her frequently at the Stockholm Opera and also as a song interpreter. I particularly remember a Satie programme which she performed with pianist Olof Höjer. As deeply involved as she was then she is also here. Her crystal clear soprano is a joy to hear, but also the care with which she interprets the poems. This delightful disc should appeal to everyone with even the slightest interest in Swedish art songs.
Contents Carl Jonas Love ALMQVIST (1793 – 1866)
1. Du går icke ensam (You do not walk alone) [1:04]
2. Den lyssnande Maria (The listening Mary) [1:37]
3. Marias häpnad (Mary’s amazement) [1:05]
4. Varför kom du på ängen? (Why did you come on the meadow?) [1:16]
5. Hjärtats blomma (Flower of the heart) [1:51]
6. Tintomaras sang (The song of Tintomara) [2:34] Adolf Fredrik LINDBLAD (1801 – 1878)
7. En sommardag (A Summer day) [2:35]
8. Mån tro? Jo, jo! (What do you believe? Well, well!) [2:54]
9. I en ung flickas minnesbok (In a young girl’s memory book) [1:38]
10. Obesvarad kärlek (Unrequited love) [2:37]
11. Om aftonen (In the evening) [1:32]
12. Nära(Near) [2:42]
13. Om natten (In the Night) [1:52]
14. Föresats (Resolve) [1:42]
15. Förtröstan (Confidence) [1:38]
16. En ung flickas morgonbetraktelse (A young girl’s morning reflection) [1:52]
17. Aftonen (The evening) [2:45]
18. Höstkvällen (The Autumn evening) [2:28]
19. Karin Månsdotters vaggvisa för Erik XIV(Karin Månsdotter’s lullaby for Erik XIV) [3:26]
20. Var är mitt hem? (Where is my home?) [1:53]
21. Erster Verlust (First loss) [1:46]
22. Am Arensee (At Aarensee) [2:29]
23. Tröstung (Solace) [2:11]
24. Der schlummernde Amor (The sleeping Amor) [1:26] Torbjörn Iwan LUNDQUIST (1920 – 2000)
25. Ute blåser sommarvind (Out there is Summer breeze) [1:43]
26. Fröjdefullt sjunga de fåglar små (Joyfully the birds so small are singing) [1:12]
27. Skatan sitter på kyrkotorn (The magpie is sitting on church’s tower part) [1:47] Ingemar LILJEFORS (1906 – 1981)
28. Spegelsång (Mirror song) [1:00]
29. Fråga och svar (Question and answer) [1:25]
30. Soluppgång (Sunrise) [1:40] Sven-Eric JOHANSON (1919 – 1997)
31. Tystnaden (The Silence) [1:41]
32. Folkton 2000 (Folk Tone 2000) [2:33] Sven-Erik BÄCK (1919 – 1994)
Tre kinesiska dikter (Three Chinese poems)
33. Fullmånen (The full Moon) [2:38]
34. Poem (Poem) [2:25]
35. Skrivet en regnig natt till en vän I norr (Written a rainy night for a friend in the North) [2:38] Kerstin JEPPSSON(b. 1948)
Kvinnosånger (Women’s songs)
36. Rosen (The Rose) [1:25]
37. Upptäckt (Discovery) [1:15]
38. Kärleksdikt (Love Poem) [1:30]