Carl Nielsen: Songs for choir
03 June 2015
Carl Nielsen, best known in this country for his orchestral music, also composed a large body of simple, popular songs. These are not traditional folk songs that he unearthed and rearranged, but rather his own original melodic settings of older poems. He wrote them with the intent of reinvigorating the tradition of Danish popular song, and these simple, strophic pieces — familiar-sounding, yet newly composed — have indeed become basic repertoire for schools, churches, and other community use in Dennmark. Most were written for voice and piano, but Michael Bojesen, the conductor of Ars Nova Copenhagen, has gracefully adapted Nielsen’s piano accompaniments for four-part a cappella chorus, careful to preserve the simplicity of the originals.
The songs are straightforward and unfailingly attractive, and it’s hard to imagine performances more pristine and shapely than those given here by Ars Nova Copenhagen. The singing is resonant, seamlessly integrated, and perfectly in tune. Inevitably, the songs start to run together after hearing five or six of them in a row (this collection contains twenty of them). Some of the standouts include the joyful, three-quarter time “Jubilation, shouts of glee,” the yearning, harmonically nimble “We, sons of the plains carry dreams in our minds,” the stirring, evocative “There’s a fleet of floating islands,” and the contemplative “Wherefore do our eyes feel pleasure,” which like several of the songs, slips teasingly between major and minor. This album documents an important segment of Nielsen’s output that is unknown outside of his native country, and it makes for exceptionally pleasant listening.