Thursday 31 March 2016

A very fine selection of Nielsen’s often neglected songs brings together Denmark’s finest national choirs on a new release from Dacapo

Amongst Carl Nielsen’s 1865-1931) range of compositions that include operas, orchestral works including the six symphonies, chamber works, instrumental and piano works, he wrote around 300 songs.

Dacapo Records  have just released a recording of twenty five choral versions of the most popular of these songs performed by the Danish National Vocal Ensemble  and the Danish National Concert Choir  conducted by Michael Schønwandt , the Danish National Girls Choir conducted by Phillip Faber  and the Danish National Junior Choir  and Danish National Children's Choir  conducted by Susanne Wendt


Entitled simply Carl Nielsen sung by the Danish National Choirs, this new disc brings some of Nielsen’s best known songs alongside rare and unknown works, setting a wide range of texts.

The Danish National Vocal Ensemble conducted by Michael Schønwandt brings  a finely blended texture to Der er et yndigt land (A fair and lovely land), CNW 351 (1924) in the version for mixed choir, a direct and finely shaped piece intended as a new national anthem.
In Hjemve (Underlige aftenlufte!) (Homesickness: ‘Odd and unknown evening breezes’), CNW 205 (1924) (version for mixed choir) they bring a wonderful sense of nostalgia finding some beautifully controlled moments with just the right blend of intensity and quieter calm.

From To skolesange (Two School Songs) (1929) we hear Blomsterstøv fra blomsterbæger (Flower pollen from profusion), CNW 343 (for mixed choir) which moves ahead with a lovely rhythm, this fine choir bringing a really good blend of vocal textures.

Sidskensang (Du er, min tro, en underlig pog) (Siskin Song: ’You are, in truth, a curious pet’), CNW 348 (1906) (for choir SSAT) brings some especially fine part writing to which these singers give the most impressive performance, finding their way around some fast moving intricacies. Superbly sung.  
There is a lovely gentle flow in the Serenade (Gerne vi lytter, når strængene bringer) (Serenade: ’Gladly we listen when music may carry’), CNW 349 (1907) (for mixed choir) with a very fine layering of voices and contrasting faster passages that recall the preceding song. A most fine song indeed.

Jeg bærer med smil min byrde (I take with a smile my burden), CNW 212 (1924)
(version for mixed choir) has a fine rhythmic buoyancy that carries it along, nicely pointed up the Danish National Vocal Ensemble,  with a lovely coda.

Kom, Gudsengel, stille død (Come, God’s angel, silent Death), CNW 350 (1907)
(for choir ATB) opens on the upper voices bringing an exquisite effect as the song weaves its way forward, the lower voices adding a fine texture. This is a wonderful setting with quite lovely harmonies, beautifully sung.   

The second of the To skolesange (Two School Songs) (1929) is a fast, rhythmically pointed Nu er for stakket tid forbi (It’s over for a short respite), CNW 344 (for mixed choir) to which this choir bring a real lightness of touch with a lovely slower central section.

The male voices of the Danish National Vocal Ensemble bring Det bødes der for i lange år (You suffer throughout an age of pain), CNW 357 (1887) providing a fine blend of timbres in this more sombre setting that these singers, nevertheless, keep moving at a fine pace.

Aftenstemning (Alt skoven sig fordunkler) (Evening: The woods are dimly listening), CNW 359 is heard here in a quite beautiful setting for male voices, finely controlled and shaped, extracting the full feeling from the texts.

The male voices bring a beautifully nuanced performance of Påskeliljen (Påskeblomst! en dråbe stærk) (The Daffodil: ‘Easter bloom! A potent drink’), CNW 361 (1910) with a hymn like feel, often with a lovely restraint.
It is the Danish National Children's Choir conducted by Susanne Wendt that bring us Barnets sang (Kom, i dag må alle synge) (Children’s Song: ‘Come today and join the chorus’), CNW 301 (1905) (for children’s choir), a joyful song with some very fine sonorities and harmonies.

Susanne Wendt also directs the Danish National Junior Choir in Grøn er vårens hæk (Springtime hedge is green), CNW 268 (for children’s choir) where these young singers expertly weave some lovely vocal lines.

Jeg ved en lærkerede (Two larks in love have nested), CNW 262 (1924) (for children’s choir) brings back the Danish National Children's Choir in a slow moving setting, achieving fine accuracy and a lovely harmony.

The Junior Choir bring a lovely gentle flow to Solen er så rød, mor (Look! the sun is red, mum), CNW 263 (1924) (for children’s choir) with these young singers bringing a lovely lilt.

Michael Schønwandt directs the Danish National Concert Choir for Sangen til Danmark (Som en rejselysten flåde) (The Song to Denmark: ’There’s a fleet of floating islands’), CNW 237 (1920) (version for mixed choir) who rise up with a very fine choral texture, finely controlled, finding many fine nuances.

There are two pieces from an Arrangement of Kantate ved Aarhus Landsudstillings åbningshøjtidelighed 1909 (Cantata for the Opening Ceremony of the National Exhibition in Aarhus 1909) (1913) for mixed choir. Danmark, du kornblonde datter (Denmark, ye corn-golden daughter), CNW 342 the National Concert Choir bringing some fine harmonies and textures, rising to some powerful moments and Skummende lå havet (Foaming high, the waters rushed heavily ashore), CNW 341 where the choir bring much fine energy and agility as well as finely controlled dynamics.

The male voices of the Danish National Concert Choir bring a lovely rich blend of textures to the often stirring Fædrelandssang (Du danske mand! af al din magt) (Danish Patriotic Song: ’Sing, Danish man! With all your might’), CNW 288 (1906). These male voices also bring great character to the light hearted Til snapsen i ‘Bel Canto’ (Endskønt jeg ganske sikkert ved) (To the Schnapps in ‘Bel Canto’: Although I’m more convinced than not’), CNW 360 (1909) before bringing fine sonorities to the patriotic Den danske sang er en ung, blond pige (The Danish song is a fair young maiden), CNW 271 (1926/27).

The Danish National Girls’ Choir is conducted by Phillip Faber in the quite lovely Nu sol i øst oprinder mild (Now sun arises in the East), CNW 186 (1914) (version for girls’ choir), finding a lovely clear tone and fine harmonies. They are quite exquisite in Jeg lægger mig så trygt til ro (In peace, I lay me down to sleep), CNW 269 (1924) a slower gentler setting.  
Hjemve (Underlige aftenlufte!) (Homesickness: ‘Odd and unknown evening breezes’), CNW 205 (1924) for girls’ choir is equally lovely with this impressive choir finding just the right restraint and, indeed, nuances.
The Danish National Girls’ Choir bring a lovely flow to the final song, Der er et yndigt land (A fair and lovely land), CNW 351 (1924) (version for girls’ choir) again with fine sonorities and harmonies and a real transparency of tone, a beautifully shaped performance. 

This is a very fine selection of Nielsen’s often neglected songs bringing together Denmark’s finest national choirs. They are beautifully recorded in the fine acoustic of the Garnisons Church, Copenhagen, Denmark and there are informative booklet notes together with full Danish texts and English translations. 

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