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MusicWeb International "Recording of the month" - "Best of all, the music and performances are gorgeous – lovely late-night listening"

October 4, 2018

Michael Wilkinson, MusicWeb International

Recording of the Month
Årstiderne – 28 Danske Sange
Danish National Vocal Ensemble/Bo Holten
rec. 2018, Koncertkirken, Copenhagen
OUR RECORDINGS 8.226911 [67.44]
There are three good reasons for buying this CD: it is a fascinating introduction to an important aspect of Danish music; it shows how the choral music of Nielsen belongs within a significant tradition; best of all, the music and performances are gorgeous – lovely late-night listening.

Denmark has relatively few old folk songs, but part-singing has always been popular, both in public performance and in domestic settings. The country in its modern form came into existence in 1849; Danish nationalism led to the peaceful formation of a constitutional monarchy, though in 1864, Schleswig and Holstein were ceded to Prussia, following Denmark’s military defeat. The songs produced between 1830 and 1960, often nationalistic and patriotic, reflected delight in the Danish landscape. Carl Nielsen was an important part of the movement, as his various songs attest. Three are found on the current recording. Hvor sødt i sommer-aftenstunden is perhaps the most striking in its austere beauty. Those interested in more of his songs might profitably explore Da Capo 8.226112, a collection of some of his songs – of more than three hundred – sung by Danish National Choirs, including the National Vocal Ensemble, which I chose as a Recording of the Month in 2016 (review). The Nielsen songs here are delightful, but companion pieces are not overshadowed.

The songs across the collection, divided by season, are frequently austere in style – emotions are not worn on the sleeve in an excess of sentiment. Each is very brief. They are more powerful for such simplicity. Many of the songs are homophonic, with repeated verses. Where there is polyphony, it is applied with a light touch. Take for example En yndig og frydefuld sommertid (Kærlighedrosen), with a beautiful soprano solo by Malene Nordtrop – who sings also Spurven sidder stum bag kvist in the Winter section. The simplicity and innocence of diction is deeply moving.

Bo Holten is a specialist in this repertoire: the Danish Vocal Ensemble are superb collaborators. The nineteen voices confidently remain light-hued and deeply sensitive, able to provide subtle variety without drawing attention to their artfulness.

Texts are provided in Danish; translations are available from the company’s website. October 5th, 2018, Michael Wilkinson

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