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Alfven songs BIS2575
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Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960)
At Home with Hugo Alfvén
Elin Rombo (soprano), Peter Friis Johansson (piano)
rec. 2021, Alfvéngården, Tibble, Sweden
Sung texts with English translations enclosed
BIS BIS-2575 SACD [67]

The words “At home” in the title of this disc refer to both the recording venue, Alfvéngården, and the music chosen for performance. Alfvéngården was the home of the composer from 1945 to his death in 1960. It is located in Tibble, near the town of Leksand, and was a gift to the composer from the Swedish people. Most readers will associate Alfvén with orchestral and choral works, but Ellin Rombo and Peter Friis Johansson here present songs and piano music, such as were probably heard at Alfvéngården.

Piano music was never a central part of Alfvén’s output, and the two cycles recorded here were the last he wrote for the instrument. The Fyra låtar från Leksand (Four Folk Tunes from Leksand) date from 1908 and are not mere presentations of the tunes but modified by the composer to fit his own style. They are very agreeable, especially the second. Very different is the earlier Skargardsbilder Op.17 (Skargard Pictures), written just after the composer had completed his Symphony No. 2. The word “Skargard” refers to the islets or skerries of the Swedish Archipelago, a favorite location for the composer in younger days (vide Rangstrom) and one he would return to musically in the tone poem En skärgardssägen (A Skerries Tale) and the Symphony No. 4, Från havsbandet (From the Seaward Skerries). The first of the pictures, Solglitter (Sun Sparkles), seems to be the composer’s counterpart to Debussy’s Reflets dans L’eau or Ravel’s Jeux d’eau, and not unworthy to be bracketed with them. The second, Natt (Night), is a miniature symphonic poem, thoroughly evocative of a night on a boat in the Skerries. The third, Böljesång (Song of the Waves), combines elements from the previous movements to provide a serene conclusion.

Unlike piano music, Alfvén wrote songs throughout his career. Most of those chosen for this disc are relatively early, but they are balanced by two of his last. The two songs of Op. 8, Svarta rosor (Black Roses) and Sommardofter (Scents of Summer), are rather traditional, but still effective, especially Sommardofter. The songs to texts by Österling were written in 1905, at perhaps the happiest time of the composer’s life, not long before he was to commence the Symphony No. 3. They are all appropriately forceful, but varied in subject matter. Bon (Prayer) portrays the quieter aspects of love, something that the composer would continue to evoke in later songs. The penetrating Pioner (Peonies) deals with one of Alfvén’s favorites topics: the intermixing of joy and pain that constitute love. This emotional atmosphere continues in Minnesskrift (In memoriam), but raised to a super-charged level; in total, this is a magnificent cycle.

The banker and poet Ernest Thiel was both a patron and friend of Alfvén, who composed two groups of songs to words by Thiel. The first group (Op. 28), were composed in 1908 and are included on this disc, while the second, Op.32, was written in 1913. Several of the Op. 28 songs are among Alfvén’s best-known, the most evocative being Jag kysser din vita hand (I kiss your pale hand), another song on the mixed pain and joy of love, and the charming Du är stilla ro (You are placid calm). The sixth song, Skogen sover (The forest sleeps), is another mini-tone poem. The songs of Op. 28 cover a wide emotional range and Alfvén brings the cycle to a triumphant conclusion with Se, du kom med jubel och sång i hågen (Behold, you came with joy).

Two of Alfvén’s latest songs are included by Rombo and Johansson. Aftonen (Evening) was written in 1942 as a song for chorus, and then arranged by the composer as an art-song, retaining some of the programmatic elements of the original chorus in the song’s vocal line. The overall impression is one of complete serenity. Four years later Alfvén wrote Så tag mit hjerte (So take my heart, his most famous song. This has a simplicity and purity that could come only after a lifetime of song composition.

The conciseness and meditative quality of many of Alfvén’s songs can sometimes tempt singers to diminish the dramatic level of the individual songs. Elin Rombo safely avoids this temptation, producing exciting versions without neglecting their other qualities. Peter Friis Johansson should be thought of as co-performer, not accompanist, as many of the songs require as much from the pianist as the singer. Indeed, I found him almost more convincing in this role than as piano soloist. Alfvén’s own home has a warm acoustic, very appropriate for the songs, and the SACD only magnifies this aspect. This disc stands on its own as a collection of some the composer’s best songs and piano works, but is especially recommended to those who only know Alfvén as a composer of orchestral and choral works.

William Kreindler

Previous review: Göran Forsling

1) Aftonen (1942) [3:36] 
Sju dikter av Ernest Thiel, Op.28 (1908) [17:59]
2) Djupt hos friborna människor [1:48]
3) Ett enda vart mitt hjärta givet [2:22]
4) Jag kysser din vita hand [5:04]
5) Du är stilla ro [2:53]
6) Jag längtar dig [1:08]
7) Skogen sover [2:58]
8) Se, du kom med jubel och sång i hågen [1:46]
Fyra låtar från Leksand (1914) [11:15]
09) Gånglåt [2:56]
10) Dans [2:46]
11) Skänklåt [1:40]
12) Danslek [3:53]
Tre Österlingsånger, Op.22 (1905) [10:38]
13) Bön [3:09]
14) Pioner [3:18]
15) Minnesskrift [4:11]
Skärgårdsbilder, Op.17 (1901-2) [12:58]
16) Solglitter [3:25]
17) Natt [5:26]
18) Böljesång [4:07]
Tvenne Iyriska stämningar, Op. 8 (1899) [7:03]
19) Svarta rosor (Tristi amori) [4:18]
20) Sommardofter [2:45]
21) Så tag mit hjerte (1946) [3:40]

Published: October 27, 2022

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