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Siv Wennberg (soprano): A Great Primadonna Volume 1: Liederkonzert
Jan Eyron (piano)
rec. July 1986 at Riddarhuset, Stockholm
Sung texts with English translations enclosed STERLING CDA1689-2 [63:42]
Swedish soprano Siv Wennberg, who originally trained as a concert pianist, had an important international career in the 1970s and -80s, primarily in dramatic roles but she was also a devoted recitalist and often sang Nordic romances and German Lieder, not least Richard Strauss. I had the good fortune to hear her at the very beginning. I even believe I witnessed her debut at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm in the role of Berta in Il barbiere di Siviglia. But very soon she was entrusted with principal parts and her first Sieglinde in Die Walküre was a sensation. The big opera houses were eager to book her and within a couple of years she got a recording contract with EMI. This, unfortunately, only resulted in two recordings: an LP with Nordic songs, where she was accompanied by Geoffrey Parsons and a complete recording of Wagner’s early opera Rienzi, conducted by Heinrich Hollreiser and with singers like René Kollo and Theo Adam. At long last she has now been the subject of an extended series of CDs under the header “A Great Primadonna”. It is the Swedish company Sterling, who have dug deep in radio archives and other sources and come up with an impressive lot of recorded material that shows the breadth of her repertoire. Besides various concerts and recitals there are also three complete operas. In due time I will discuss most of these issues. The present disc is the first instalment and it is a rather unfortunate start, for certain reasons.
It is a live song recital recorded by a visitor with presumably rather simple equipment. The recording is rather distant, there is some kind of background hiss, there is disturbing echo, the piano tone is very metallic but the worst thing is that the singer’s voice seems unfocused and sometimes out of tune. This latter remark seems almost unbelievable for a singer with perfect pitch but I experience something similar to the Doppler effect, i.e. “an increase (or decrease) in the frequency of sound, light, or other waves as the source and observer move towards (or away from) each other. The effect causes the sudden change in pitch noticeable in a passing siren …” to quote the encyclopaedia. What I experience is not as drastic as the Doppler effect but the pitch wavers slightly. I can’t explain why but I must report what I hear.
But I hear other things as well. I hear a big and beautiful voice which can expand almost limitlessly but can also scale down to superb pianissimo. I hear a singer who doesn’t just sing the notes but also understands and can express the words and their meaning. I hear a pianist who knows the repertoire and listens to the singer’s intentions. Jan Eyron’s hallmark was always a total identification with the music and with the singer he formed a duo with. No glaring piano in the world can hide that. I also hear an enthusiastic audience shouting ‘Bravo!’ as a further confirmation of the artists’ achievements.
The programme is full of gems. Mozart’s Abendempfindung is uncommonly powerful but this is also a valid way of approaching the song. Auf Flügeln des Gesanges is sung with great warmth and beauty. In the three Schubert songs Wennberg is rather restrained and the nocturnal feeling of the holy night that the first two describe is sensitively delineated. The Nordic songs – Stenhammar, Grieg and Alfvén – are certainly sung from the heart, and finally come four encores with a dramatic, glorious Schlagende Herzen by Richard Strauss, Grieg’s Et håb and Peterson-Berger’s humoristic Bjørnson setting Solen skinner vakkert om kvelden and at last the two say goodbye with Zueignung, simple and moving.
The recording leaves a lot to be desired but there is so much here that is so exquisitely done and I only regret that I hear that wavering pitch. Hopefully others don’t hear it.
Track Listing Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
1. Abendempfindung K523 [5:07] Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809 – 1847)
2. Suleika, Op. 34:4 [3:18]
3. Auf Flügeln des Gesanges [2:54] Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828)
4. Nacht und Träume [4:07]
5. Nachtstück [5:14]
6. Ave Maria [6:31] Wilhelm STENHAMMAR (1871 – 1927)
7. I skogen [2:28] Edvard GRIEG (1843 – 1907)
8. Solveigs sang [4:56]
9. Vuggesang [4:01]
10. Prinsessen [4:03]
11. Jeg elsker dig [3:34] Hugo ALFVÉN (1872 – 1960)
12. Skogen sover [3:09]
13. Jag längtar dig [2:13] Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949)
14. Schlagende Herzen [2:17] Edvard GRIEG
15. Et håb [2:02] Wilhelm PETERSON-BERGER (1867 – 1942)
16. Solen skinner vakkert om kvaelden [1:47] Richard STRAUSS
17. Zueignung [2:31]