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Pacius: Hymn To Finland - Works For Male-voice Choir / Henrik Wikstrom

Release Date: 04/28/2009 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 1694   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Fredrik Pacius
Conductor:  Henrik Wikstrom
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Audio QuattroThe 4zSangforenigen Academy
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Lovers of the genre need not hesitate.

There can be few more thrilling sounds than unaccompanied male choruses in full flight. Happily there’s no shortage of suitable repertoire and, if the CDs I’ve reviewed in recent years are anything to go by, the standard of singing is remarkably high. The Kansas and Phoenix choirs in Grechaninov’s Passion Week (see review), Ensemble 96 in Immortal Nystedt (see review) and, most recently, the YL and Talla choruses in works by Einojuhani Rautavaara (see Read more href="http://www.musicweb-international.com/classRev/2009/Mar09/Rautavaara_Male_ode11252.htm"> review) are good examples of this. The Grechaninov and Nystedt discs are especially memorable, one for its dark, old-Russian sound, the other for its clear, precisely projected modernity.

Those two composers are hardly household names, but then neither is Fredrik Pacius. Dubbed the ‘Father of Finnish music’ this German-born conductor/composer was fairly prolific, writing two symphonies, two operas and a number of other vocal works. His 1848 setting of Vårt land (Our Land) to words by Johan Ludvig Runeberg, was adopted as the Finnish national anthem. Appropriately enough the Akademiska Sångföreningen – founded by Pacius in 1838 – is at the heart of this new disc, singing in Swedish, Finnish, French and German. There are two smaller groups as well, 4Z and the punning Audio Quattro, who sing the quartets and octets. All are ably led by Henri Wikström, the main choir’s former pianist and, since 1997, its director.

The first tranche of songs is collected under the heading Pacius in Swedish, and includes an apple-cheeked Vårsång (Spring Song) and a suitably virile Studentsång (Student Song). The choir is always crisp and clear, with a focused, typically Nordic, sound. Listeners familiar with the Nystedt disc will certainly recognise the vocal style which, in Det var då (That was then), takes on a wonderfully wistful quality. And what a pleasant surprise to hear the liquid tones of Sharon Bezaly’s flute added to the mix in Philomele. In the first quartet 4Z make a splendid job of the lonely little number Den sjuttonåriga (A Girl of Seventeen); they are joined by Audio Quattro for the finely wrought Förgät mig ej (Forget Me Not).

Recording unaccompanied choruses presents special challenges, and I’m pleased to say the BIS engineers have come up with a clear, fresh recording that has just enough bass warmth to tether the higher voices. Two venues are listed and both seem to suit this music very well; in fact, the Järvenpää Hall was used for Ondine’s Rautavaara set, which also has a mellow but well-focused sound. As far as the music goes, Pacius is very easy on the ear, a welcome, Nordic breeze on a hot summer’s afternoon. That said, there’s a burst of erotic heat in the tipsy Till Jonas Perón (To Jonas Perón), delivered with real animation.

The second part of this disc consists of Pacius’s arrangements of songs by the Swedish poet and composer Carl Michael Bellman (1740-1795). These songs and epistles of Fredman have a strong folk-like element and seem rhythmically distinct from the settings we’ve heard thus far. Dynamically there is more variation as well, with the voices occasionally dividing to great effect. These bucolic – and alcoholic – celebrations are deftly despatched by the vocal octet and the main choir. It’s not hard to see why Bellman is considered a pivotal figure in the Nordic song tradition, such are the infectious rhythms and word pointing on display here.

By contrast Pacius’s arrangements of Finnish folk songs – from Kreivin sylissä istunut (Sitting in the Count’s Lap) to Fantasi över ett finskt tema (Fantasy on a Finnish Theme) – are a little less colourful than their Swedish counterparts. But what they might lack in this respect they certainly make up for in range of mood and rhythm; just sample the chilling tale of fratricide in Verinen poika (The Bloody Boy) and listen to 4Z in the nimble little Folkvisa (Laulu kanteletta soittavalle tytölle) (Song of the Girl Playing the Kantele) and the catchy, repeated phrases of Turvaton (Defenceless). In the latter settings 4Z prove they really are a most characterful group and I’d love to hear them in other repertoire.

In my Rautavaara review I grumbled about the somewhat ‘grey’ character of some of the settings. That’s not really an issue here, although I would suggest you dip into this collection rather than play it right through. The German and French settings, to texts by Uhland, Rückert, Müller and others, are more than enough for one sitting. Stylistically there’s little to distinguish these songs from what we’ve heard thus far, although the switch to German and French does subtly alter the shape of the choral sound. One could so easily imagine these texts in Schubert’s hands, especially the crisp rhythms of Der Jäger auf der Kirchweih (The Hunter at the Parish Fair) and the gentle Wiegenlied. Indeed, there is a maid of the mill setting here (Rückert, not Müller) where the movement of the water wheel – rather than the gurgle of the brook – is cleverly evoked in the rise and fall of the choral writing.

The final selection, entitled Patriotic Pacius, contains the tub-thumpers that give this disc its title. One can’t underestimate the strength of Nordic nationalism in the 19 th century. Finland, part of the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1917, has a long history of patriotic pieces, perhaps most famously represented by Sibelius’s Finlandia. For these pieces Pacius adopts a more heroic style, especially in the proud Björneborgarnas marsch (March of the Pori Regiment) and the ringing affirmation of Finlands flagga (Finland’s Flag). But it’s the eponymous Hymn till Finland, culled from Pacius’s 1852 opera Kung Karls jakt (The Hunt of King Charles), that’s the most stirring piece here . The choir sing with considerable swagger and end with thrilling cries of Farväl! (Farewell!). The disc rounds off with Finland’s national anthem; a solemn piece, it’s sung here with just the right mix of buoyancy and gravitas.

Simply put, a cappella male-voice singing doesn’t get much better than this, Once again BIS have combined a well-programmed selection of little-known works with a fine recording to produce a most welcome disc. Lovers of the genre need not hesitate.

-- Dan Morgan, MusicWeb International

Complete Tracklist:

Vårsång (På hoppets dag) (1844) [0:42]
Studentsång (1835) [1:49]
Sång för Nordiska ynglingar (1839) [0:58]
Det var då (1849) [2:44]
Philomele (1836) [1:59]
Den sjuttonåriga (quartet) (c. 1843) [1:33]
Förgät mig ej (octet) (1841) [1:12]
Till Jonas Perón (1843) [0:32]
Hör, I Orphei drängar. Fredmans Epistel Nr. 14 (octet) (arr. c. 1842) [1:32]
Blåsen nu alla. Fredmans Epistel Nr. 25 (octet) (arr. 1841 at the latest) [1:28]
Nå, ä’ nu alla församlade här? Fredmans Epistel Nr. 13 (arr. c.1842) [1:47]
Kreivin sylissä istunut (arr. 1835-1840) [1:47]
Folkvisa (Laulu kanteletta soittavalle tytölle) (quartet) (arr. 1835-1840) [0:30]
Turvaton (quartet) (arr. 1835-1840) [0:55]
Folkvisa (Rannalla itkijä) (quartet) (arr. 1835-1840) [1:14] (Velisurmaaja) (arr. 1835-1840) [1:45]
Fantasi över ett finskt tema (arr. c. 1841) [2:03]
Frühlingsglaube (1837) [1:25]
Ich bin nun einmal so (1842) [0:57]
Gespräche der Irrlichter (1843) [1:57]
Der Jäger auf der Kirchweih (octet) (1844) [1:12]
Wiegenlied (quartet) (at the latest 1842) [1:08]
Die Abendglocke auf dem Berge (quartet) (1843) [2:50]
Lied an die schöne Müllerin (1844) [3:30]
À la Mélancolie (1837) [2:45]
Rheinweinlied (1841) [0:27]
Schenkt ein! (1843) [1:05]
Trinklied (1843) [1:08]
Björneborgarnas marsch (arr. 1858) [3:33]
Suomis sang (1854) [2:30]
Finlands flagga (at the latest 1863) [5:20]
Hymn till Finland (1852) [1:20]
Vårt land (1848) [1:37]
Audio Quattro (vocal quartet); The 4Z (vocal quartet); Akademiska Sångföreningen/Henrik Wikström
rec. Järvenpää Hall, Finland, March 2008; Nya Paviljongen, Grankulla, Finland’ November 2008. Texts and translations provided
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Works on This Recording

Hymn Till Finland by Fredrik Pacius
Conductor:  Henrik Wikstrom
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Audio Quattro,  The 4z,  Sangforenigen Academy
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1852 
Det var då by Fredrik Pacius
Conductor:  Henrik Wikstrom
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Sangforenigen Academy,  Audio Quattro,  The 4z
Period: Romantic 
Written: Finland 

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