Carl Nielsen: Sunget af DRs Kor
30 March 2016
Michael WilkinsonSheer bliss. This CD is a joy from beginning to end. Most non-Danes, like the present reviewer, come to Nielsen through hearing – and falling in love with - the symphonies. The songs – choral and otherwise – can seem peripheral to that central achievement. However, in the Danish context, the introduction to the music of Nielsen is perhaps more likely to come through exposure to the heritage offered by his choral music and songs.
Nielsen composed about three hundred songs. The present collection has a mixture of lesser known and very popular works from across the composer’s career. In 1924, he composed Der er et yndigt land (‘A fair and lovely land’) as an alternative national anthem. It is a lovely piece, with a beautiful and memorable melody that would be easy to sing. On this CD it appears twice, first sung by an adult choir of eighteen singers. This is the first track on the CD. It reappears as the final piece, this time sung by the fifty girls of the Danish National Girls Choir. The second appearance is slower than the first, but the different timbre of the girls’ voices makes no less powerful an impression.
Songs for children's choir are most appealing. The pieces tend to be short - the longest is Grøn er vårens hæk [2.53] – but each has an easy charm. Sample Barnets sang (Kom, i dag må alle synge) from 1905. Notice how well-prepared the singers are, but one senses also the enjoyment in a simple song about the joys of singing. Perhaps most instantly appealing of this group is Grøn er vårens hæk, a song about spring and its delights, finishing with a melancholy note about the sadness of going home alone.
Performances throughout are excellent. The variety offered by the different types of choir is part of the pleasure of the music, but even within choirs of similar type, there is considerable variety. Some pieces are for male voices alone, while Sidskensang (Du er, min tro, en underlig pog) is set for SSAT, with no bass line, and Kom, Gudsengel, stille død, from 1907, is for the unusual combination of ATB.
Michael Schønwandt’s credentials as a Nielsen conductor need no introduction – his recordings of the symphonies are well-known, and his recording of Maskarade [Dacapo 6.220641-42] is outstanding. The other conductors featured on the CD do not pale in comparison – the affection and care shine through. Recording quality is excellent. Notes and texts are provided in English and Danish, though the translation of the notes is unidiomatic and often reads oddly. This CD is an essential purchase, not only for lovers of Nielsen but for anyone who loves the sound of unaccompanied choirs.