Irgens-Jensen: To a Friend: songs

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COMPOSERS: Irgens-Jensen
LABELS: NMA
WORKS: To a Friend: songs
PERFORMER: Solveig Kringelborn (soprano), Einar Henning Smebye (piano); Norrköping SO/Lü Jia
CATALOGUE NO: 2 (distr. +47 6490 8860; www.n-m-a.no)
Ludvig Irgens-Jensen (1894-1969), writing in the generation after Grieg, was an early and ardent champion of Mahler. Little wonder, then, that his Japanischer Frühling, a nine-song cycle to Hans Bethge’s translations of eighth- to 18th-century Japanese verse, should irresistibly recall Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. Yet the cycle is far from a superfluous second-best. This self-taught and all but forgotten Norwegian composer breathes shy, fresh air into his settings in vocal writing that is constantly varied, often unpredictable and, if Solveig Kringelborn’s disarming performances are anything to go by, a delight to sing.

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Most of Irgens-Jensen’s 500 or so songs remain unrecorded. This revised orchestral version of the Japanese cycle is complemented on this engaging and welcome disc by four more orchestral songs, including two hymn-like pieces: ‘In His Blood’ from the composer’s Olav Oratorio; and ‘Altar’, a favourite of Kathleen Ferrier.

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Kringelborn’s bright summer night of a soprano is ideally suited to this repertoire; and her pianist, Einar Henning Smebye, enjoys as obviously as she does the wit and whimsy of the quirky little Fables and Children’s Rhymes. They would, and indeed should, grace many a recital programme. Hilary Finch