Gramophone (UK)This ensemble´s lightness of touch and exquisite detail are revealed best in Laub´s “Stille, Hjerte, sol går ned”
Andrew Mellor, Gramophone
Nordic humility combined with Danish plain speaking to take the country´s unique song tradition in a new direction in the first decades of the 20th century. The organist and composer Thomas Laub, was rewriting the country´s hymnbook along rigorous anti-Romantic lines and developing a new form of secular song that resonated with the emerging Højskole movement. Laub had an ally in Carl Nielsen, whose desire to move Denmark away from German “gravy and grease” pervaded community song as much as symphonies. Plenty of other composers joined him.
Bo Holten´s work tending this tradition and its various tributaries has made him something of a national treasure. Here he presents a selection of 28 songs sifted along seasonal lines. A good example of Laub´s principles at work in Nielsen´s music is found in the ode to the sun “Hvor sødt i sommer-aftenstunden” (Text by Adam Oehlenschläger) with its austere but beautiful harmonies.
Often the songs are homophonic with repeated verses, but as in Nielsen`s better-known “Nu lyser løv I lunde” the Danish National Vocal Ensemble shows how colour can be adjusted to create a journey nonetheless. Just as often there are lightly polyphonic arrangements, as in Hans Hansen´s “ For alle de små blomster”. There is more gentle sophistication in Oluf Ring´s autumnal “Sig nærmer tiden”, famously covered by Denmarks´s folk-rock hero Kim Larsen.
This ensemble´s lightness of touch and exquisite detail are revealed best in Laub´s “Stille, Hjerte, sol går ned” and in the tripping textures of Nielsen´s “Se dig ud en sommerdag”, even if the passing chromatic harmonies are sometimes smudged. Plenty here reveals the essence of so much 20th-and 21st-century Danish music; the booklet contains no translation from the Danish text, although English translations are available from the record company´s website. Andrew Mellor, Gramophone September 2018