ALBUM TITLE: Nielsen
PERFORMER: Stephen Milling, Johan Reuter, Stig Fogh Andersen, Niels Jørgen Riis, Dénise Beck, Anne Margrethe Dahl, Ditte Højgaard Andersen, Christian Damsgaard; Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Choir/Michael Schønwandt
CATALOGUE NO: 6.220641/6.220642 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Nielsen’s second and finest opera, adapted from an 18th-century play by Baron Ludwig Holberg, is a cheerful comedy about youth and freedom, set against the fashion for masquerades – masked balls at which all classes and backgrounds could mingle anonymously. The lyrical score bounces with dance rhythms, alongside more reflective moments like Act II’s twilit prelude, recalling Die Meistersinger with its recurring watchman, and the extraordinary memento mori end to the masquerade itself.
This latest CD boasts probably the strongest cast on record so far. The mighty bass Stephen Milling catches the ageing paterfamilias Jeronimus’s comically fallible humanity likeably. However, Nils Jørgen Riis sounds somewhat mature as his son Leander, while Johan Reuter’s Wagnerian tones render the Figaro-like valet Henrik unduly dour. But Denise Beck and Ditte Højgaard Andersen as love interests Leonora and her maid Pernille are excellent, as are the many character roles.
Michael Schønwandt conducts with great detail and sweep, but ultimately the effect’s a touch stately, lacking the dancing lightness that made John Frandsen’s 1977 premiere recording so successful, although his voices don’t equal this. Both are recommendable; if you want big voices and 21st-century recording, there’s Schønwandt, but Frandsen, now remastered to SACD, is livelier. Michael Scott Rohan