Collection: Female Fates & Fortunes

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COMPOSERS: Dane Peter Heise,Grieg,Hugo Alfvén,Peterson-Berger
LABELS: Simax
WORKS: Haugtussa; Marit’s Songs; Maria’s Song; Gudrun’s Sorrow; Solveig’s Songs from Peer Gynt
PERFORMER: Randi Stene (mezzo-soprano)Burkhard Kehring (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: PSC 1145

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In this collection of Scandinavian songs (1870-1905), the singer is expected to impersonate, among others, a troll who speaks to animals and a talking cat. It’s a tribute, therefore, to Randi Stene’s considerable artistry that she manages to do this not just with a straight face, as it were, but with charm and no trace of affectation or coyness.

It’s not simply her natural manner that delights; this young Norwegian mezzo also has a fabulous voice, a robust tone with bright, shining higher range, a disarming ability to float top notes and a shimmering mezza voce. The whimsy of the words is not, fortunately, reflected in the ripplingly Romantic piano parts – beautifully played by Burkhard Kehring – of the eight songs that comprise Grieg’s cycle Haugtussa or Peterson-Berger’s Marit’s Songs.

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A whole disc of such folksiness might be wearing, but halfway into the recital, the idiom changes. The Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén’s rapturous four-part cycle Maria’s Song, and the Dane Peter Heise’s Gudrun’s Sorrow (a saga of Sturm und Drang) and settings of Solveig’s songs from Peer Gynt (which preceded Grieg’s) are altogether more earnest, and allow Stene to give vent to the full power and scope of her voice. Claire Wrathall