LABELS: Phono Suecia
WORKS: The Isle of Bliss
PERFORMER: Patrik Forsman, Agneta Eichenholz, Lisa Gustafsson, Susanna Levonen; Norrlands Opera Choir & SO/Kristjan Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: PSCD 722 (distr. Impetus)
Imagine a cross between the music of Bax and Hindemith and you will arrive at an approximation of Hilding Rosenberg’s style, at least as revealed in Lycksalighetens ö (The Isle of Bliss). This is just one of several operatic works by the leading Swedish composer of his generation, better known for his symphonies and string quartets, and a figure whose style in any case changed over the course of a long life (1892-1985).
And if that description hardly suggests exciting operatic drama, it’s true that Rosenberg’s strong, inventive music has a tendency towards rapturous expansion. Yet he had a fundamental feeling for the medium, based on his early association with the Royal Opera in Stockholm, where he became chief conductor in 1934. The Isle of Bliss was premiered there in 1945 and is a work that conjures up utopia just as the world was emerging from one of its darkest hours. The island evoked is a cross between Atlantis, Avalon and the Venusberg, and comes from a Swedish classic by the 19th-century poet Per Daniel Amadeus Atterbom. Some designs from the 1945 premiere feature in the booklet of this attractively produced recording.
Based on a recent production by Norrlands Opera in Umeå, near the Arctic Circle, this recording is conducted with fluidity by Kristjan Järvi, the youngest member of that conducting dynasty. As the hero Astolf, Patrik Forsman has a keen-toned tenor and plenty of heft; the queen of his dreams, Felicia, is sung with radiance by Agneta Eichenholz. Lisa Gustafsson’s Zephyr floats lines of ethereal purity, standing out among a large cast. John Allison