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Orchestral Songs
Alban BERG (1855-1935)
Sieben frühen Lieder (1900-1908, published 1928)
Henri DUPARC (1848-1933)
Au pays où se fait la guerre (1870)
Chanson triste (1868)
Le manoir de Rosemonde (1879)
La vie antérieure (1884)
Exstase (1874)
L’invitation au voyage (1870)
Ture RANGSTRÖM (1884-1947)
The dark flower (1924)
The Amazon (1920)
Melody (1917)
Wings in the night (1917)
The wind and the tree (1921)
Prayer to the night (1924)
Malin Byström (soprano)
Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra/Stefan Solyom
rec. Helsingborg Concert House, January 2018/19 (?)
SWEDISH SOCIETY DISCOFIL SCD1168 [51:15]

This most interesting and enterprising recital comprises orchestral songs ranging from the relatively familiar (Berg and Duparc) to comparatively rare (Rangström). Malin Byström’s range extends from delicate tracery to a declamatory style bordering on the heroic. Her previous recorded repertory extends from Mathilde in Rossini’s William Tell all the way to the title role in Strauss’s Salome – which might seem a wide stretch indeed, until one recalls the similarly extensive repertory of Montserrat Caballé. She is certainly not afraid to employ a wide dynamic spectrum to bring out the drama of these settings.

We have heard Berg’s early quasi-impressionist cycle delivered in creamier and more romantic tones, but the almost laconic texts by a broad range of poets are superbly realised, and the accompaniment by Stefan Solyom and his orchestra has just the right sense of expressionist edge to supply a degree of grist to the mill. There is of course almost no evidence here of the style of later Berg, although the songs were not actually published until 1928.

The orchestra are even better suited to the collection of Duparc settings. They bring the right sense of trenchant galloping to Le manoir de Rosemonde, and relish the glorious detail of the treatment of Baudelaire’s text in L’inivitation au voyage. Byström can spin out a beautifully thin line too, bringing echoes of Janet Baker’s white tone to her treatment of Jean Lahor’s Exstase. But she reserves her best for the music of her fellow-Swede Ture Rangström. His large output of song has been almost totally neglected outside his homeland. I first encountered some of them in performances by Birgit Nilsson back in the 1960s. Nilsson brought, as one would expect, plenty of grandeur to the mythological declamation of The Amazon, but Byström’s more reserved tones are better suited to the more delicate songs which constitute the selection here, and the orchestral accompaniment has a subtler atmosphere of light and shade. One would gladly have welcomed more of Rangström’s orchestral songs. Of his 300 or so songs, he orchestrated at least sixty. Although there are a good number of recitals of his songs now available on disc, we could always do with more.
 
The booklet, a superficially attractive item bound into a gatefold sleeve, unfortunately does little to help the listener come to terms with the music. We are given a four-page essay in both Swedish and English by Hanna Höglund. It draws non-existent parallels between the lives of the three composers in question, linking them with the archetypical theme of the ‘quest’ as exemplified in Homer’s Odyssey and Tolkien’s The Hobbit (a comparison which would certainly have startled the latter). None of the biographical information is especially enlightening, and its relevance to the music remains unexplored since the latter is never discussed at all. There are texts, but no translations, of the Berg and Duparc songs. There are English translations of the Swedish poems set by Rangström, some of which appear to have only tangential connection with the English language as it is generally spoken: “My fate inulectable [sic] it is clouds of flaming danger in flight over murky waters…” The translations are also often incorrectly aligned with the sung text, so they give the misleading impression in The Amazon that a whole verse has been simply omitted. The dates of the songs and their composers are not stated, nor are there any indications of the length of any of the items; this might perhaps have been designed to conceal the fact that the disc offers decidedly short measure (the duration listed above is not stated anywhere in the presentation). There would certainly have been room for the other three orchestral songs by Duparc. What information is given is dubiously accurate: the recordings are variously stated (on the same page) to have been made in 2018 and 2019. That is a pity, since these performances deserve better.

Paul Corfield Godfrey



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