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Kirsten Flagstad Edition: The Decca Recitals
rec. 1956-59
Full track details at end of review
DECCA 4783930 [10 CDs: 624:43]

Experience Classicsonline



This ten-disc set features recordings made for Decca in the second half of the 1950s, the period that has been described as Kirsten Flagstad’s “Indian Summer”, after she had left EMI. Although this is not a comprehensive set of those Decca recordings - which include the complete Alceste and Das Rheingold - it is nevertheless a wonderful and important collection covering a wide variety of repertoire.
 
The set gets off to a fantastic start with the first two discs featuring Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder and Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder and Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (CD1) and extracts from Wagner operas (CD2). This is searingly beautiful, sensitive, radiant music-making, with superb atmosphere and feeling and excellent orchestral accompaniment. We move to Grieg for the third disc - a selection of songs. These are preceded by the rather maudlin song-cycle Haugtussa, which is strongly associated with Flagstad, who popularised it in the recital hall. The piano comes across as somewhat muffled, as if it has been placed too far back, although this is probably due to the recording style of the period. Certainly the recorded acoustic is typical of 1950s Decca recordings. This occlusion is also prevalent throughout the fifth and sixth discs. It is particularly noticeable in Erlkönig, which really calls out for a crisper, more immediate sound.
 
Disc four is of songs by Sibelius, Grieg, Eggen, Alnaes and Lie. These were recorded in the Kingsway Hall, so the sound is very different - both colder but more immediate - yet it again spotlights the voice. Flagstad’s higher notes seem to have more power and assurance than on the following disc - CD4 having been recorded in 1958 and 1959, while the recordings on CD5 date from 1956. The London Symphony Orchestra in the 1959 recording of the Eggen, Alnaes and Lie has a more focused sound than in the preceding Sibelius and Grieg, where the songs were recorded the previous year. Despite this, the Sibelius songs are utterly ravishing, and this recording is to be treasured. The works by Eggen, Alnaes and Lie are simple and strophic, extremely opulent in harmonic language and instrumentation and just a bit same-y and sweet in a slightly candy-floss-ish way.
 
Schubert and Brahms feature on the fifth disc, where the recordings amply capture the substance and richness of Flagstad’s voice. One issue that is noticeable here is that notes of F sharp and above are not as well-centred as the rest of the voice; the intonation and control not as secure as for lower notes. This is an issue on other discs, too - particularly Strauss’s Befreit on CD6 - although only for those recorded in the Decca studio and not those recorded, for example, at Kingsway Hall; perhaps she felt less at ease in the studio? Erlkönig was, for me, the highlight of this disc, despite the distanced piano, where, as previously mentioned, greater articulation is needed. Although Flagstad does not differentiate as much as other singers between the characters, the sense of hysteria she captures in the child’s last cries is terrifyingly intense, and the ending is deeply chilling and utterly gripping. That said, I did feel that Flagstad is here slightly let down by the pianist whose accompaniment is just a little too prosaic and lacking in atmosphere.
 
The sixth disc presents songs by Schumann, Wolf, Strauss and Sinding. The only issues here are the aforementioned higher note insecurity. Disc seven moves on to sacred songs by Mendelssohn, Gounod, Parry, Bortniansky and Liddle, with a couple of Christmas carols thrown in (Silent Night and O Come, all ye faithful). This disc is slightly less impressive than the preceding ones - Flagstad’s English is rather distorted. This is also an issue for the following disc where it is sometimes difficult to tell that Flagstad is singing in English. Examples can be found in Jesu, joy of man’s desiring and in the opening Hear my Prayer ... O for the wings of a dove where Flagstad is accompanied by an unidentified chorus. There the ensemble is rather poor and the sopranos wail. The balance between chorus and orchestra is also inappropriately biased towards the orchestra. The following disc is of extracts of Bach and Handel. The performances tend to be heavy and unleavened.
 
The final two discs are taken up with Norwegian hymns, some of these preceded by very brief organ preludes. Again, the recorded balance is odd; Flagstad is very closely miked, whilst the organ is distant. Another oddity is that no texts or translations are provided for the hymns - whilst all other texts have been usefully reproduced. The inclusion of the hymn discs is a nice touch, however, given that these are works with which Flagstad would have been familiar since her earliest days. She regularly sang them in concert performances held in churches in Norway during her last years.
 
The booklet notes comprise just a relatively short biography of Flagstad, track-listings and texts. There’s nothing about any of the composers, which is not a problem except in the case of the lesser-known ones, such as Lie, Eggen and Alnaes, about whom it would be interesting to have some background.
 
Despite the few issues outlined above, this is nevertheless a wonderful set, with some glorious performances - especially of the Sibelius, Mahler and Wagner.
 
Em Marshall-Luck 

 
Full Track Details 
Kirsten Flagstad Edition: The Decca Recitals 

CD 1 [64.31]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Wesendonck-Lieder
Der Engel [3.08]
Stehe still! [3.51]
ImTreibhaus [6.07]
Schmerzen [2.24]
Traume [4.48]
 
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Kindertotenlieder
I Nun will die Sonn' so hell aufgeh'n [6.01]
II Nun seh' ich wohl, warum so dunkle Flammen [5.54]
III Wenn dein Mutterlein [5.33]
IV Oft denk' ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen! [3.41]
V In diesem Wetter [6.36]
 
Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen
I Wenn mein Schatz Hochzeit macht [3.52]
II Ging heut' morgen uber's Feld [4.09]
III Ich nab' ein gluhend Messer [2.57]
IV Die zwei blauen Augen [4.59]
 
Wiener Philharmoniker, Hans Knappertsbusch (Wagner), Sir Adrian Boult (Mahler)
Recording location: Sofiensaal, Vienna, 13-15 May 1956 (Wagner); 17, 18, 20, 21 May 1957 (Mahler)
 
CD 2 [60.25]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Operatic extracts from Die Walkure, Lohengrin, Parsifal, Gotterdammerung
 
Die Walkure
Der Manner Sippe [4.48]
Du bist der Lenz [2.21]
Siegmund! Sieh' auf mich! (Todesverkundigung) [21.30]
 
Lohengrin
Einsam in trubenTagen [6.29]
 
Parsifal
Ich sah das Kind [5.50]
 
Gotterdammerung
Starke Scheite schichtet mir dort (Immolation scene) [18.58]
Wiener Philharmoniker (tracks 1-5), Hans Knappertsbusch (tracks 1, 2, 4, 5), Sir Georg Solti (track 3), Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra (track 6), Norwegian State Radio Orchestra (track 6), 0ivin Fjeldstad (track 6)
Recording locations: Great Hall, University of Oslo, 10 January, 1956 (track 6), Sofiensaal, Vienna, 13-15 May 1956 (tracks 1, 2, 4, 5), 27, 28 May 1957 (track3)
 
CD 3 [74.24]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Haugtussa, op.67
Det syng [4.30]
Veslemoy [3.04]
Blabaer-Li [4.03]
Mote [4.19]
Elsk [3.30]
Killingdans [1.44]
Vond Dag [2.35]
Ved Gjeetle-Bekken [6.58]
 
Jeg elsker Dig, op.5 no.3 [3.17]
Eros, op.70 no.1 [3.13]
Millom rosor, op.39 no.4 [2.02]
Der gynger en Bad pa Bolge, op.69 no.1 [3.03]
Hytten, op.18 no.7 [1.32]
Det forste mote, op.21 no.1 [4.20]
Jeg giver mit digt til varen, op.21 no.3 [3.26]
Med en primulaveris, op.26 no.4 [2.20]
Med en vanlilje, op.25 no.4 [2.41]
En dram, op.48 no.6 [2.34]
I liden hojt der oppe, op.39 no.3 [2.12]
Era Monte Pincio, op.39 no.1 [6.17]
Liten Kirsten, op.60 no.1 [3.52]
Den aergjerrige, op.26 no.3 [1.32]
Edwin McArthur (piano)
Recording location: Decca Studios, West Hampstead, 26-29 March 1956 (songs); 22-30 November 1956 (Haugtussa)
 
CD 4 [78.41]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Til kvallen, op.17 no.6 [1.36]
Var del en drom? op.37 no.4 [2.17]
Hostkvall, op.38 no.1 [5.26]
Diamanten pa Marssnon, op.36 no.6 [2.16]
Flickan kom ifran sin alsklings mote, op.37 no.5 [3.07]
Arioso, op.3 [4.03]
Varen flyktar hastigt, op.13 no.4 [1.36]
Se'n har jag ej fragat mera, op.17 no.1 [2.22]
Men min fagel marks dock icke, op.36 no.2 [2.43]
Pa verandan vid havet, op.38 no.2 [3.06]
Den forsta kyssen, op.37 no.1 [2.02]
Svarta rosor, op.36 no.1 [1.58]
Sa'v, sa'v, susa, op.36 no.4 [2.37]
Kom nu hit, dod! op.60 no.1 [3.36]
 
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Efterarsstormen, op. 18 no.4 [3.24]
Og jeg vil ha mig en silkevest, op.60 no.5 [1.35]
Jeg giver mil digt til varen, op.21 no.3 [3.21]
Til en, I, op.59 no.3 [2.22]
Til en, II, op.59 no.4 [1.57]
 
Arne EGGEN (1881-1955)
Ere det evige forar i livet [3.21]
 
Eyvind ALNÆS (1872-1932)
De hundrede fioliner [3.27]
Varlasngsler [3.28]
Nu brister alle de klofter [2.53]
Februarmorgen ved Golfen [2.38]
 
Harald LIE (1902-1942)
Nykelen [4.59]
Skinnvengbrev [4.58]

London Symphony Orchestra, Oivin Fjeldstad
Recording locations: Kingsway Hall, London, 10, 12-14 February 1958 (Sibelius); Walthamstow Town Hall, London, 5-8 January 1959 (Grieg, Eggen, Alnaes, Lie)
 
CD 5 [65.50]
Franz SCHUBERT 1797-1828
Dem Unendlichen [5.42]
Erlkonig, D328 [4.19]
Am Grabe Anselmos, D504 [3.37]
Des Madchens Klage, D191 [4.10]
Ave Maria, D839 [6.58]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Vier ernste Gesange
I Denn es genet dem Menschen [4.03]
II Ich wandte mich und sah an alle [4.04]
III O Tod, o Tod, wie bitter bist du [4.39]
IV Wenn ich mit Menschen- und mit Engelszungen redete [4.56]
 
Treue Liebe, op.7 no.1 [3.08]
Am Sonntag Morgen, op.49 no.1 [1.41]
Auf dem Kirchhofe, op.105 no.4 [3.09]
Wie Melodien zieht es mir, op.105 no.1 [2.05]
Alte Liebe, op.72 no.1 [3.46]
Bei dir sind meine Gedanken, op.95 no.2 [1.56]
Wir wandelten, op.96 no.2 [4.01]
Dein blaues Auge, op.59 no.8 [2.27]
 
Recording location: Decca Studios, West Hampstead, 21-23 March 1956 (Schubert), 22, 23, 26, 27 November 1956 (Brahms) 
 
CD 6 [73.45]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Der NufSbaum, op.25 no.3 [3.15]
Die Soldatenbraut, op.64 no.1 [2.10]
Meine Rose, op.90 no.2 [5.20]
Liebeslied, op.51 no.5 [1.50]
Die Lotosblume, op.25 no.7 [3.15]
Widmung, op.25 no.1 03 [2.10]
Erstes Grun, op.35 no.4 [2.50]
In der Fremde, op.39 no.1 [2.25]
Zum Schluss, op.25 no.26 [2.15]
 
Hugo WOLF (1860-1903)
Gesang Weylas Gedichte von Eduard Mörike No.46 [1.25]
Gebet Gedichte von Eduard Mörike No.28 [2.50]
Uber Nacht [2.50]
Der Freund Gedichte von Joseph von Eichendorff No.l [1.55]
Heb auf dein blondes Haupt [2.50]
Anakreons Grab Gedichte von J. W. v. Goethe No.29 [3.00]
Morgenstimmung Drei Gedichte von Robert Reinick No.2 [3.10]
Zur Ruh, zur Ruh! [2.35]
 
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Befreit, op.39 no.4 [5.45]
Mit deinen blauen Augen, op.56 no.4 [2.00]
Lob des Leidens, op. 15 no.3 [3.00]
Ich trage meine Minne, op.32 no.1 [2.05]
Seitdem dein Aug', op.17 no.1 [2.10]
Geduld, op.10 no.5 [5.20]
 
Christian SINDING (1856-1941)
Leit etter livet og liv det!, op.55 no.5 [1.00]
Sylvelin, op.55 no.1 [2.30]
Der skreg en fugl, op.18 no.5 [2.30]
Den Jomfru gik i Valmu-Vang, op.50 no.5 [1.20]
 
Edwin McArthur (piano)
Recording location: Decca Studios, West Hampstead, 21-23 March 1956 (Schumann), 22, 23, 26, 27, 29, 30 November 1956 (Wolf, Sinding, Strauss)
 
CD 7 [41.39]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Hear my prayer ... 0 for the wings of a dove [11.52]
Jerusalem! thou that killest the prophets from Paulus, op.36 [3.53]
 
Franz Xaver GRUBER (1787-1863)
Silent night! Holy night! [3.24]
 
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Ah, turn me not away ... 0 divine Redeemer [6.48]
 
Hubert PARRY (1848-1918)
Jerusalem [3.03]
 
Dmitri BORTNIANSKY (1751-1825)
Jubilate [2.31]  
John Francis WADE (1711-1786)
O come, all ye faithful [4.15]
 
Samuel LIDDLE (1867-1951)
Abide with me [5.53]
Recording location: Kingsway Hall, London, 24-26 April 1957
 
CD 8 [49.57]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Break in grief [6.35]
Jesu, joy of man's desiring [6.07]
If thou be near [4.12]
Sheep may safely graze [5.15]
 
George Friderich HANDEL (1685-1759)
Art thou troubled [5.25]
Gods all powerful [3.11]
Oh sleep, why dost thou leave me? [3.55]
He shall feed his flock [5.20]
I know that my Redeemer liveth [6.41]
Praise ye the Lord [3.16]
 
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult
Recording location: Kingsway Hall, London, 4-7 December 1956
 
CD 9 [58.50]
Norwegian Hymns by Eyvind ALNES (1872-1932), Ludvig LINDEMAN (1812-1887), Johannes CRUGER (1598-1662), Christoph Ernst Friedrich WEYSE (1774-1842) and others
A prektige himler og jorderiks hearer [2.35]
Herre Gud, ditt dyre navn og aere [2.09]
Hellig, hellig, hellig! Herre Gud allmektig [3.10]
Kjaerlighet fra Gud [1.50]
Lover den Herre [3.05]
Sorg, o kjaere Fader, du [3.15]
Lei, milde Ijos [3.40]
Gud signe vart dyre fedreland [2.40]
Deilig erjorden [3.10]
Gud skal all ting lage [3.40]
Na la oss takke Gud [2.55]
Dype, stille, sterke, milde [2.50]
Var Gud han er sa fast en borg [4.45]
Paskemorgen slukker sorgen [3.10]
Den store, hvite flokk a se [2.46]
Den signede dag som nu vi ser [2.34]
Kvardagskristen vil eg vera [3.15]
Kirken den er et gammelt hus [4.42]
Du Herre, som er sterk og stor [2.39]
 
CD 10 [56.41]
Jeg ser deg, o Guds Lam [4.20]
Ingen vinner frem til den evige or [3.35]
Eg lyfter upp til Gud min song [3.02]
Kjaerlighet fra Gud [3.12]
Sions vekter hever rosten [4.35]
Pa Gud alene [3.14]
O Jesus, din Sote forening a smake [4.52]
Alltid freidig nar du gar [2.00]
Av hoyheten opprunnen er [4.05]
Min sjel, min sjel, lov Herren [4.41]
Overmade fullt av nade [3.10]
Ett er nodig, dette ene [3.17]
Fred til bot for bittert savn [2.15]
Jesus dine dype vunder [3.58]
I denne verdens sorger senkt [3.10]
Mitt hjerte alltid vanker [3.15]
 
Sigvart Fotland (organ)
Recording location: Ris kirke, Oslo, September 1956

 


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