NIESLEN Carl Nielsen sung by the Danish National Choirs
The hero of Dacapo’s fourth recent recording of Nielsen’s ensemble songs isn’t so much the composer himself as DR, the state broadcaster that brought you Borgen and The Killing, and whose comprehensive upward-feeding choral system is profiled in its entirety here.
Still, hats off to Michael Schønwandt for taking care of 17 of the 25 numbers recorded, and for making so much of every little nuance in Nielsen’s often simple writing as only he can. In the largely (but not completely) homophonic works sung by the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, the permanent radio choir, Schønwandt finds that bit more shape and shade than Michael Bojesen’s more direct performances with Ars Nova Copenhagen (6/15). It all comes from Schønwandt’s feeling for text, which itself takes care of occasionally more tricky contrapuntal textures in such pieces as Sidskensang. To be churlish, there are some slight wobbles in tuning in Kom, Gudsengel, stille død and, later on, some of the nationalistic songs can bristle in rumbustious performances from the Concert Choir’s men’s voices (the effect of Nielsen’s drinking song Til snapsen i ‘Bel Canto’ spilling over, perhaps).
Which is precisely why the children’s voices prove such a tonic. Like the Vocal Ensemble, the Girls’ Choir (ages 16 21) has a regular TV slot in Denmark, and if it doesn’t quite engage with its text like its adult counterpart, it is bright-sounding, alert and technically bang-on under its charismatic guiding light Philip Faber. Next to their seniors, all clipped like English cathedral girl choristers but with a touch more body, the Childrens’ (ages 9 11) and Junior (ages 12 16) choirs sound thrillingly open, a joyousness in their voices that suits Nielsen’s musical intentions down to the ground. Denmark is singing very well indeed, and with a system like this, will continue to do so.