Carl Nielsen: Cantatas
09 March 2010
Three of the five pieces on this disc have never been recorded before and two are slender works that have previously appeared only in poor performances on obscure labels. The world premieres are substantial works, multi-movement cantatas, two of them lasting more than 20 minutes, by the great Danish fin de siècle symphonist Carl Nielsen. That being said, purely in terms of aesthetic worth, these cantatas roughly bear the same relationship to Nielsen's symphonies as Beethoven's Der glorreiche Augenblick
does to his symphonies.
Each cantata is an occasional work: one for the annual Copenhagen University commemoration in 1908, another for the opening ceremony of the national exhibition in Århus in 1909, and the third for Hans Hartvig Seedorff Pedersen's Homage to Holberg in 1923. Though there are some fine things here, particularly the angular string writing of the second movement of the Homage to Holberg and the ecstatic duet between tenor and soprano opening the university cantata, most of the music is simple, straightforward, tuneful, and not especially characteristic of its composer. The performances led by Bo Holten are sincere, heartfelt, and determined. The ardor of the Århus Symphony is more than professional, and the combined choruses of Århus Cathedral, the Danish National Opera Chorus, and Vox Aros are impressively committed. The soloists are surprisingly good, particularly fervent tenor Mathias Hedegaard. Listeners who love Nielsen's symphonies and his cantatas Hymnis Amoris and Springtime in Funen may want to try these cantatas as well. It is unlikely that these performances will be bettered in the foreseeable future. Da Capo's sound is clean and close, but lacking in warmth.