Kevät kerran on koittava (Spring will come)
Choral rarities from the Grand Duchy of Finland
Helsinki Chamber Choir/Nils Schweckendiek
rec. 2017, Järvenpää Church, Finland
Sung texts with English translations enclosed BISBIS-2442 [53:11]
Non-Scandinavians will probably feel alienated when browsing the contents and say: not one composer I know. And it may be a poor consolation to respond that also non-Finnish Scandinavians will feel the same. I also believe that many average Finnish readers are unfamiliar with some of the names, but it would be a pity to write the disc off without giving it a chance. There are two reasons. Firstly: All the songs are good, most of them are quite simple but they are melodically attractive. Secondly: The singing is marvellous! Fresh, youthful voices, intonation perfect, homogenous choral sound, excellent articulation. The last advantage may not be important to readers with no knowledge of Finnish and/or Swedish but the booklet has English translations and it is easy to just shut the eyes and just wallow in the sound.
A short historical background: Finland was part of Sweden from the middle ages until the early 19th century; to be more precise 1157 – 1809. After many wars between Sweden and Russia it was eventually conquered by Russia and at a peace in Fredrikshamn in September 1809 Sweden had to give up Finland which became a grand duchy under Russia with a high degree of autonomy. It remained that way until 1917, when Finland declared its independence. Swedish was also during those years an important language for administration and cultural activities at large. However, a budding nationalism slowly developed and towards the end of the century the Russian central regime became tougher, resulting in opposition and even the murder of the general governor Bobrikov in 1904. The music on this disc is from the period 1809 – 1917.
I don’t intend to analyse the individual songs at depth but I would like to point out some of the composers, and also mention that possibly the two most important and popular poets writing in Swedish are represented here, Johan Ludwig Runeberg and Zachris Topelius. Both were residents of Finland. Erik Johan Stagnelius (tr. 11) was Swedish but very popular among the Swedish speaking Finnish people.
Fredrik August Ehrström has been called “the first Finnish composer”. Historically this is not correct; he had predecessors but to his contemporaries he was very important. His beautiful setting of Runeberg’s Svanen (The Swan) (tr. 10) goes some way to explain his popularity. Erkki Melartin, belonging to the later part of this period, was somewhat younger that Sibelius and was largely overshadowed by his elder compatriot but he had an important career even so, also as conductor. He was influenced by Gustav Mahler and conducted the first performance of Mahler’s music in Scandinavia. He wrote six symphonies, chamber music, songs and operas, of which Aino (1912) is the best known and also available on CD. But best known he is for Juhlamarssi, which is the most popular wedding march in Finland. He is represented here by three songs, of which Ossian’s Darthula’s Funeral Song (tr. 22) is the highlight.
Karl Collan’s romantic songs were very popular, and still are, not least Sylvias Christmas Song which is frequently sung at Christmas time. But he also translated the Finnish national epos Kalevala to Swedish.
Bernhard Crusell came from Åland in the Finnish archipelago in the Baltic between Finland and Sweden. He came to Stockholm at a very early age and was one of the greatest clarinettists of his time. He wrote three clarinet concertos which are frequently played today and was the greatest Finnish composer before Sibelius. Fredrik Pacius was German but came early to Finland. “The Father of Finnish Music” he has been called and he wrote the first Finnish opera, Kung Karls jakt (The Hunt of King Charles) (1852). The libretto was written by Topelius. Four years before that he set Runeberg’s Vårt land which later became the Finnish national anthem. On the present disc he is represented by another Runeberg setting, Vårmorgonen (Spring Morning) (tr. 8). Robert Kajanus was primarily conductor and a close friend of Sibelius, whose music he championed. He was the first to record Sibelius symphonies 1, 2, 3 and 5 in the 1930s, recordings that are still regarded as the most authentic. His setting of Stagnelius’s Serenad (tr. 11) is very beautiful. Pekka Juhani Hannikainen is best remembered as father of pianist and composer Ilmari Hannikainen.
Armas Järnefelt had a great success with the little orchestral piece Berceuse (1904) but was primarily conductor and worked for many years at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm. He was brother-in-law to Jean Sibelius. The most popular song composer in Finland for many years was Oskar Merikanto, and his songs have retained their popularity to this very day. Itätuulessa (In the East Wind) (tr. 23) is characteristically melodious and accessible. His son was opera composer Aare Merikanto, whose Juha is still played. Gabriel Linsén was also a busy composer of vocal music and his En sommardag i Kangasala (A Summer Day in Kangasala) is a Finnish classic. Skördefolkets visa (Song of the Harvesters) (tr. 26) to a Topelius text is a short and enthusiastic round off to this wholly delicious programme.
Contents Erkki MELARTIN (1875 – 1937)
1. Aamulla [0:54] Karl COLLAN (1828 – 1871)
2. Morgenlied [1:34] Henrik BORENIUS (1840 – 1909)
3. Laulajaparille [1:27] Karl Johan MORING (1832 – 1868)
4. Den väntande [1:56]
5. Hämnden [1:10] Bernhard Henrik CRUSELL (1775 – 1838)
6. Hell dig, du höga Nord! [1:44] Piae Cantiones (v. 1-2, 4) / Heikki KLEMETTI (1876 – 1953) (v. 3)
7. In vernali tempore /Tullos kevät armahin [2:47] Fredrik PACIUS (1810 – 1891)
8. Vårmorgonen [3:52] Rafael LAETHÉN (1845 – 1898)
9. Iltalaulu [1:34] Fredrik August EHRSTRÖM (1801 – 1850)
10. Svanen [2:20] Robert KAJANUS (1856 – 1933)
11. Serenad [1:21]
Arr. Emil SIVORI (1864 – 1929)
12. Iloa ja surua [2:14] Ludvig KILJANDER (1851 – 1911)
13. Metsässä [1:42] Pekka Juhani HANNIKAINEN (1854 – 1924)
14. Punkaharjun laulutyttö [1:55] Erik August HAGFORS (1827 – 1913)
15. Kevätyhtiön polska [1:58]
Arr. Martin WEGELIUS (1846 – 1903)
16. Och jungfrun hon går i dansen [0:39] Ludvig KILJANDER
17. Hiljaa! [1:47] Primus LEPPÄNEN (1872 – 1934)
18. Näin unta kesästä kerran [1:49] Emil GENETZ (1852 – 1930)
19. Ins stille Land [1:20] Armas JÄRNEFELT (1869 – 1958)
20. Orpo ja lintu [3:36]
21. Armahan kulku [1:35] Erkki MELARTIN
22. Darthulan hautauslaulu [4:04] Oskar MERIKANTO (1868 – 1924)
23. Itätuulessa [3:59] Erkki MELARTIN
24. Piirilaulu [0:43]
Arr. Richard FALTIN (1835 – 1918)
25. Piiritanssilaulu [1:43] Gabriel LINSÉN (1836 – 1914)
26. Skördefolkets visa [0:43]
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