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Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
The Mother, A Play in a Prologue and Seven Scenes by Helge Rode, op. 41
Adam Riis (tenor), Palle Knudsen (baritone), Christine Nonbo Andersen (soprano), Rasmus Gravers Nielsen (tenor), Steffen Bruun (bass)
Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Philharmonic Choir
Odense Symphony Orchestra/Andreas Delfs
rec. 2020, Carl Nielsen Salen, Odense Koncerthus, Denmark
DACAPO 6.220648 SACD [71:27]

Carl Nielsen did not want to compose this music. He considered that a pot-pourri of well known melodies and patriotic songs would best serve the play, which celebrated the return of Northern Schleswig (by Germany) to Denmark after World War I. Northern Schleswig, Southern Schleswig and Holstein were lost to Germany in two wars in 1850 and 1864. Following the 1920 referendum, Northern Schleswig with its majority Danish population voted to return to Danish rule. The other two with large majority German inhabitants remained parts of Germany.

Eventually, Nielsen conceded to the commission in return for a large cheque and an agreement that he did not have to attend rehearsals. In fact, he was working on his 5th symphony, and did not want progress on it to be interrupted. Interestingly, as his work proceeded, he became more and more enthusiastic about The Mother, and stated that he was proud to be a part of it.

The music bears no resemblance whatsoever to the 5th symphony. Vocally it reminds me of his delightful Springtime in Funen, though there is no children’s chorus. The work consists of an opening prologue (which is an uninteresting rumty-tum military march), and seven scenes of twenty-two varied musical pieces, ranging from full orchestra to instrumental solos and orchestral songs. There is also a (mercifully) short melodrama, and in the form of a musical Vote of Thanks to the countries who defeated Germany, we hear short excerpts from the national Anthems of France, Britain, Italy and America.

Interestingly, Nielsen installed his Saga-drom as the opening section of Scene One. The following songs, unreservedly melodious, are all of the simple strophic type that could be sung by individual or groups. Some have become popular and are still sung in Denmark. The booklet accompanying the SACD mentions Like Golden Amber is my Girl and There’s a Fleet of Floating Islands in this respect.

Apparently one section of the work The Mist is Rising has become indelibly associated with Nielsen in Denmark, and it is presented here as a delightful duet between flute and harp. Nielsen had to ask another composer to orchestrate a small proportion of the other parts, presumably because of lack of time, but the relatively simple nature of all the pieces renders this unnoticeable.

I have listened to this SACD using a stereo set-up with a dedicated SACD player, though it can, of course, be played on a standard CD player. The production standards of the SACD package are very good, with a very detailed booklet giving a description of the genesis of the work and its subsequent performances, together with a track-by-track analysis of each section, with the vocal and instrumental soloists identified. Translations of the songs are not given, just the Danish text, but lyrics in English are available from the label’s web-site. The recording is excellent in all respects, well balanced and full, and the singers are all very fine. The orchestra plays well, and apart from the slightly fragmented nature that is almost inevitable with incidental music divorced from its staging, it is a very fine performance of appealing, almost “easy listening” Nielsen.

Jim Westhead

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