Sibelius: Songs, Opp. 13, 50 & 90

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COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Songs, Opp. 13, 50 & 90
PERFORMER: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Bengt Forsberg (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-757 DDD
If Bryn Terfel’s marvellous disc The Vagabond (DG, 1995) proved the English song repertoire every bit as good as the French, Spanish or Russian, then this revelatory recital does the same for the Swedish art-song.

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Written between 1884 and 1924, the 31 settings here embrace a range of styles and moods, from the folk themes of Peterson-Berger’s Marit’s Songs to the shimmering Romanticism of von Koch’s Exotic Songs; from the monumental drama of Rangström’s restless ‘Wings in the Night’ to the rapturous lyricism of Stenhammar’s Songs and Mood Pictures. What unites them is their vividness; even without a word of Swedish you know what they’re about.

Yet again von Otter proves herself a supreme artist, her voice pure, full-bodied and unconstrained. But more thrilling still is the way she communicates: you sense that every syllable has been considered for meaning and weight, but nothing is forced or studied, and the effect is beautiful and uplifting. These complex songs are also demanding of the pianist, and Bengt Forsberg proves her equal at the keyboard: infinitely responsive, and assertive but never dominating.

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They prove a scintillating combination once more on the latest volume of BIS’s complete Sibelius cycle. If their performance doesn’t have quite the magic that suffuses the Swedish songs, it’s a first-class recording nonetheless.