Fanfare (US)"Enthusiastically recommended"
October 30, 2018
Ken Meltzer, Fanfare USA
ÅRSTIDERNE: 28 Danish Songs • Bo Holten, cond; Danish Natl Vocal Ens • OUR 8226911 (67:44)
One of my great joys in reviewing recordings for Fanfare is the welcome opportunity to listen to repertoire and/or interpreters I might otherwise never have encountered. Such is the case with The Seasons: 28 Danish Songs, a new release on the OUR Recordings label. The disc comprises a series of songs, mostly from the first half of the 20th century, by various Danish composers. The songs, vi- gnettes of man’s relationship to nature, are divided into the four seasons, which, like Vivaldi’s Le quattro stagioni, progress from spring through winter. The spring portion encompasses seven songs, and summer, nine. The remaining two seasons are accorded six songs apiece. Nature is celebrated throughout this series, with the sea playing a prominent role, as of course, does snow, both in winter and the close of spring. In his liner notes for this release, conductor Bo Holten notes that because of Denmark’s unsettled history during the 19th century, the country lacks the kind of rich folk song tra- dition of its neighbors, Norway and Sweden. Instead, Danish composers wrote a plethora of “nation- al songs” between 1830 and 1960. Carl Nielsen is represented by three songs, alongside the works of other, less famous (at least internationally) Danish composers. However the Danish songs are characterized, their subject matter, traditional tonal foundation, and straightforward melodies make them close cousins of the folk idiom. The Danish songs on this recording are strophic, and tend to focus on a single subject and/or mood. Here, the songs are presented in a cappella arrangements for mixed chorus. And so, we do not have the kind additional narrative perspective provided, for exam- ple, by the piano accompanist in Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin.
I found these songs a delight from start to finish. No doubt, the music itself must take the lion’s share of the credit. But the performances themselves present this music in a most favorable light. 13 of the arrangements are by the conductor on this disc, Bo Holten, an accomplished composer in his own right. For the most part, the arrangements feature a harmonized single vocal line, showcasing the text, and the blended sound of the mixed chorus. (The other arrangements, by various individu- als, take a similar approach.) According to the liner notes, the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, a chamber chorus of 18 members, “is internationally known for its pure, transparent Nordic sound.” Vibrato is applied sparingly (the two soprano solos, in En yndig og frydefuld sommertid and Spurven sidder stum bag qvist, have a decidedly androgynous quality). Such an approach has the potential to make lapses of intonation glaringly apparent, but these artists are consistently spot-on. Under Bo Holten’s direction, the ensemble’s remarkable balance and blending of the voice groups, along with its glowing sonority, are impressive, often breathtaking. The recording, made in Copenhagen’s Koncertkirken, offers an ideal blend of a warm (but not overly resonant) acoustic, vocal and textual detail, and a realistic concert hall perspective. The CD booklet includes essays and artist bios in Danish and English. The original Danish song texts are included, with the English translations ac- cessible via the OUR Recordings website. Illustrations from Flora Danica, Denmark’s comprehen- sive floral atlas, are a fetching complement to the musical proceedings. This is lovely music, beau- tifully and immaculately performed, with first-class production values all around. I’m delighted this disc crossed my path, and I suspect you will be similarly persuaded. Enthusiastically recommended.
Ken Meltzer, October 2018