A delightful recording of beautiful Danish repertoire
I have had a fascination with Danish music since learning the Nielsen flute concerto while at school. The sound is fresh, distinctly Danish and different from much other European music at the time. Most people would be hard pushed to name more than three Danish composers. Nielsen is obviously the best known. Anyone who has looked beyond his music may also know of Hartmann or Lange-Müller. Somehow it is only recently that the Golden Age of Danish music seems to have come to our attention. The composers on this disc demonstrate subtly different styles of writing, from the quintessentially Danish (Nielsen, for example), to the Schubertian (Weyse) and theRead more Wagnerian.
This is a delightful recording of some beautiful repertoire. Light-weight, but nevertheless highly enthralling, this collection of serenades and romances is a joy. The singing is wonderful; Mathias Hedegaard is the recording’s main artist and his voice is perfectly suited to this kind of repertoire. I could listen to him for hours. The orchestral playing is subtle in its accompaniment, achieving a perfect balance with the singers.
There are four Nielsen tracks on this album, taken from The Mother, Springtime on Funen and Maskarade. The opening, Min pige er sa lys som rav (as fair as amber is my girl) is instantly recognisable as what I would think of as quintessentially Danish. The melodic lines in this love song are simple, the mood is lilting and the harmony is tonal but sumptuous. One of Nielsen’s best known vocal works, Springtime on Funen is not often performed outside Denmark. Track 12, taken from that work, brings to mind the Danish countryside in which the protagonist lives (the tender day is light and long and full of sun and blackbird’s song). The sound here is more symphonic, with a rich orchestral skein.
J.P.E. Hartmann’s only contribution to this album, ja, jege er hjemme begins with an expressive orchestral introduction and has a particularly satisfying bass line. This song is taken from Liden Kirsten, Hartmann’s most successful opera where all aspects are influenced by folk music. The central orchestral interlude includes an exquisitely executed clarinet solo [1:56]. The harmony is less progressive than Nielsen’s yet it contains much variety, including major and minor sections, and a real fluidity of line. This is the longest track on the CD.
Another favourite is Lange-Müller’s Genboens første vise. Full of lightness and a flowing melody, this short song is beautifully performed. This composer features often on this CD, with no less than ten tracks. The Serenade from Renaissance is a full-scale piece, with orchestra, choir and solo tenor. The play is set in Venice and features a painter, Tintoretto, as the lead character. A gondolier’s song with its gently undulating quavers forms the perfect backdrop to the flowing melodic lines. Elkste, jeg lever is reminiscent in places of Wagner, and as such is slightly heavier than many of the other works here. Taken from the opera Peter Plus, this track features soprano Ditte Højgaard Andersen alongside Hedegaard, once again with choral and orchestral accompaniment. The two main voices complement each other magnificently. Another track from the same opera, Rosens elskov reminds me a little, stylistically at least, of Tchaikovsky ballet music. The only two purely orchestral tracks are taken from Gildet pa Solhaug, a setting of a play by Ibsen. The dance is at times dark and menacing, with repeated dotted rhythms feeling the heavy burden of pedal bass notes and thudding, accented second beats. The second section is, by contrast, light and charming, with repetitions of the melodic lines heard between wind and strings. This bright moment is however short-lived, and the music returns to its dark and heavy rhythms. The overture, too begins with a sense of foreboding; this is music of gravitas. The melody is driving and broad, against a moving violin accompaniment. Reminiscent of Sibelius, the minor key brings to mind cold, bleak weather and man’s determination to survive the odds. The work builds to a central climax and then trudges off into the distance, with valedictory plodding bass notes. This is intensely beautiful and would work on its own as a short concert piece.
There is a single track by Friedrich Kunzen, which is similar in style to Schubert. The vocal line is presented with clarity and understanding by Hedegaard. Kunzen’s opera, Erik Ejegod was composed in 1798 and was his second work in the genre. Taking elements from Danish history, it tells of the medieval king Erik Ejegod. Although the work was a success at the time of its composition, it has not been staged since 1827. This recording includes the ballad Midnattens mane (The Midnight Moon), which has become a part of the Danish concert repertoire. The song tells of a love triangle between Lyna, Uller and Alf and the murder of Lyna. In a fit of passion, Alf dies of a broken heart.
The remaining composer represented here is Weyse. A leading composer in Denmark around the 1800s, he also worked as a pianist and organist. His style, perhaps unsurprisingly, is once again reminiscent of Schubert, particularly in the use of the orchestra. His approach is more classical than some of the others represented on this CD. The song from Prinsessa Isabella, nattern er sa stille contains a beautifully performed harp accompaniment, with an introduction and coda which would not sound out of place in Welsh folk music.
This is a delightful recording throughout, with excellent production values. The performance is of a consistently high level and the singing has a wonderful sense of phrasing and clarity. Hedegaard has an exquisite voice which deserves to be heard.