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Dacapo - The National Music Anthology of Denmark

Format:  SACD

Catalogue Number:  6.220569

Barcode:  747313156962

Release month:  Dec 2014



Carl Nielsen: Sange for kor

17 February 2015  MusicWeb International
Dan Morgan

The double Mahler centenary in 2010-11 and Richard Strauss’s in 2014 swelled a catalogue already bloated with recordings of these composers’ works. Nielsen is not nearly so well represented on record or in the concert hall, so he really deserves a boost in this, the 150th anniversary of his birth. Having just reviewed the final instalment in Alan Gilbert’s Nielsen symphony cycle with the New York Philharmonic I then stumbled upon this collection of thecomposer's a cappella works from the splendid Ars Nova Copenhagen. I last encountered this choir on a disc of choral pieces by another Dane, the off-the-wall but always entertaining Pelle Gudmundsen-Holgreen.

The conductor on that CD was the much-respected choral conductor Paul Hillier; this time round it’s Michael Bojesen, well-known in his native Denmark as a conductor, composer and teacher. He may not have Hillier’s international reputation, but it only takes a few minutes to realise that he’s every bit as refined, subtle and assured as his British counterpart. The songs here are what Jens Cornelius in his excellent liner-notes refers to as ‘folk high-school songs’, a sort of gebrauchsmusik for communities to sing. This genre is distinct from folk-songs in the more traditional sense.

In my Gudmundsen-Holmgreen review I characterised Ars Nova Copenhagen’s sound as ‘rarefied and superbly focused’; and so it is here. From the start I was captivated by the simple beauty of these Nielsen pieces, recorded in the rich, glowing acoustic of the Old Church of Our Lady, Roskilde. This 11th-century edifice seems ideal for choral works, as it does nothing to muddy Ars Nova’s fine articulation and superior blend. Honestly, there are few lovelier sounds than a Nordic choir on song as it were, and this is one of the very best. On the face of it this repertoire may seem a little unvaried, but listen closely and their rhythmic vitality and subtle word painting tell a very different story.

As one would expect from Dacapo the engineering is first-rate; the choir's ideally balanced and the sound is utterly natural right across the range; if only all such collections were this well recorded. The sung texts – in Danish and English – are reproduced in the well-designed and very informative booklet; some of the translations may seem a tad unwieldy but their atmosphere and intent are easy enough to divine. If you don’t know vocal Nielsen apart from, say, the delightful Springtime in Funen, now’s the time to make amends. I’m so glad I did.

Ardent, apple-cheeked repertoire lovingly sung; a cappella choirs don’t come much better than this.

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