VON OTTER / Boldemann Gefors Hillborg


Werke von / Works by
Laci Boldemann
Hans Gefors
Anders Hillborg
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Kent Nagano
Int. Release 01 Apr. 2008
0289 477 7439 6
CD DDD 0289 477 7439 6 GH
20/21 Series

Track List

Anders Hillborg (1954 - )
Laci Boldemann (1921 - 1969)
4 Epitaphs, Op.10



Hans Gefors (1952 - )
Lydias sånger


Anne Sofie von Otter, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Kent Nagano

Total Playing Time 1:02:36

. . . the long-breathed, slow-moving lines that emerge from the opening quiet orchestral unison are strongly compelling, while the gorgeous orchestral texture manages to support the voice's melodic intensity without falling over into neo-Romantic corniness. Anne Sofie von Otter is at her focused best here -- her vibrato-less pitch perfect throughout . . . The orchestral playing is very fine, and beautifully recorded. Worth exploring . . .

This exemplary release finds Anne Sofie von Otter again stamping her distinctive mark on a disc. Two of these works were written for her, and with her special qualities in mind, so right from the start of Anders Hillborg's "¿lontana in sonno¿" von Otter's dusky voice traces a lonely line with supreme musical concentration . . . her voice soars with purity . . . a simple intensity . . . [is] perhaps the key to everything here.

Anne Sofie von Otter seems to be one in a million. She is supremely talented, as her discography attest; and she is committed to the music of today . . . The result is this miraculous disc. I have nothing but praise not only for von Otter's intent, but for her delivery also. Two of the works (Hillborg and Gefors) are found here in world premiere recordings . . . Von Otter, it almost goes without saying, is superb, riding all challenges easily. Much of the music is darkly scored. The fire music of "A flaming wall of fire" is most effective; the fantastic delicacy of "The Sphinx" is pure delight . . . The chosen texts are in a variety of languages, and von Otter seems equally at home in all of them . . . The recording is not merely exemplary, it is demonstration standard. Here detail and sense of space find the perfect marriage. Documentation is similarly of the very highest standard. A must.

Overall, the mezzo demonstrates once again that she possesses one of the most flexible and natural vocal instruments of any living artist. She performs these newly composed, uniformly difficult pieces as if she'd spent her whole life internalizing them. Fully captivated by every word and musical phrase, she ensures that the listener will be as well. Under the always-impressive Nagano, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra . . . is a vibrant wonder.

[Anne Sofie von Otter]: I've really been enjoying her recording of "... Iontana in sonno ..." by Anders Hillborg . . . She's wonderful . . .

["Lydias Sanger" / "¿lontano in sonno¿"]: Beide Stücke scheinen Anne Sofie von Otter auf die Stimme geschrieben. Theatralisch umkreist die Musik die großen Themen von Liebe, Leidenschaft und Tod. In jeder Phase bleibt die Sängerin dramatisch durchdrungen, formt sensible aus. Hillborgs Stück ist von jäher, . . . Intensität, wobei die Göteborger Sinfoniker unter Nagano der Sängerin wie ein Schatten bis in die Spitzen folgen, später dunkle, ausfransende Akzente setzen.

Otter, engagiert unterstützt vom Symphonieorchester aus Göteborg unter Kent Nagano, tritt mit ihren variations- und nuancenreichen stimmlichen Mitteln überzeugend für sie ein.

. . . [Anne Sofie von Otter] fasziniert mit wunderbar gepflegtem und tiefschürfendem Gesang. Sie wird vom Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra und dem Dirigenten Kent Nagano aufmerksam und motiviert begleitet.

Die Mezzosopranistin erweist sich in allen drei Werken als hochdifferenzierte Gestalterin, die ihre wunderbar leuchtkräftige Stimme perfekt den verschiedenen kompositorischen Idiomen anpasst; dabei wird sie dem bei Gefors gelegentlich anklingenden Volksliedton ebenso mühelos gerecht wie der quasiinstrumentalen Stimmführung in der Partitur von Hillborg. Auch hinsichtlich der Textverständlichkeit ist ihre Darbietung mustergültig: Von Otter scheint sich im Englischen, Deutschen, Italienischen und Französischen genauso wohl zu fühlen wie in ihrer Muttersprache. Und nicht zuletzt ist ihre ausgezeichnete Partnerschaft mit den Göteborger Sinfonikern unter der Leitung von Kent Nagano hervorzuheben, die durchweg für eine plastische, klangschöne Umsetzung dieser hörenswerten Werke sorgen.

Anne Sofie von Otter es un ejemplo casi omnicomprensivo de virtudes y excelencias vocales. Gracias a un control extraordinario de todos los recursos de la voz (especialmente el color y el vibrato), von Otter consigue hacer de una obra en esencia monótona y plagada de lugares comunes como es ¿...Lontana in sonno¿ una experiencia interesante.
Anne Sofie von Otter sings Orchestral Songs from Sweden

Always searching for new and challenging repertoire, Anne Sofie von Otter herself came up with the idea for this album: “I wanted to do something for Swedish contemporary music, and so, following the intense work preparing and premiering Hans Gefors's Lydia's Songs, I asked Anders Hillborg if he would also compose a work." Complementing the two recent cycles by living composers in this collection is one from the mid-20th century by a lesser-known figure, Laci Boldemann.

Hardly any other Swedish composer's biography can match the drama of Laci Boldemann's. Born in Helsinki, he grew up in Germany and moved to Sweden in 1939. Forced into the German army during the war, he served in Russia, Poland and Italy before deserting to join the Italian partisans. Eventually he was captured and spent two years in an American POW camp. In 1947 he returned to Sweden, where during the 1950s he had to support himself as a timber measurer. As a composer, Boldemann devoted much of his career to writing stage works and songs for children.

Boldemann's Four Epitaphs for mezzo-soprano and string orchestra, labelled a cantata by the composer, date from 1952. They are settings of poems from Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology (1915), 244 free-form tombstone epitaphs for citizens of the fictional town of Spoon River, Illinois, written in the first person. “I find the songs incredibly moving," says von Otter. “The first one is truly beautiful, both text and music. I am also attracted to their simplicity; there is a streak of folk music in them."

The four epitaphs offer four different perspectives on love and death. In the first setting, with its almost Wagnerian accompaniment, Sarah Brown implores her grieving lover to tell her husband to accept their illicit affair: “Through the flesh I won spirit, and through spirit, peace." In the second song, a march, Ollie McGee avenges her cruel and humiliating husband in death. Boldemann's cantata is significantly more modern than his vocal works from the 1960s, especially the third song, in which Mabel Osborne complains that her tomb's flowers are drooping from lack of water, a metaphor for her loveless life. Finally, in a tranquil setting, William and Emily sing of the bliss in passing away together.

Hans Gefors composed Lydia's Songs for Anne Sofie von Otter in 1995-96 to a commission from the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Having produced successful operas dealing with deception, murder and the dark side of the human mind, including Christina (1986) and The Park (1991), he chose here to write love songs that address themes of longing, innocence, lust, desire, jealousy, ridicule, abandonment, and both painful and sweet memories, finding his inspiration in Hjalmar Söderberg's The Serious Game (Den allvarsamma leken).

Arguably the greatest love story in Swedish literature, Söderberg's 1912 novel is a complex work containing direct references to specific works of literature, poetry and music. The story, which begins towards the end of the 19th century, is simple. Arvid and Lydia fall in love, but end up marrying others. After ten years they meet again at the opera. Arvid is now a music critic. They begin an adulterous affair. Lydia divorces, but at the end abandons Arvid for another man. Arvid leaves the country.

Gefors's song cycle is organized in seven sections, with a clear, almost operatic, narrative outline. Only once does he take his text directly from Söderberg, instead turning to poetry mentioned or suggested in the novel - verses by Heine, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Jens Peter Jacobsen.

Gefors first met von Otter when she played him her album “Speak Low: Songs by Kurt Weill," and he was immensely impressed with her range of expression: “I was fascinated by the fact that the same singer could perform Baroque and cabaret, high Romanticism, Lieder and folksongs with equal sensuality and commitment. That inspired me to aim high." Later, after having presented von Otter with the final version, he recalled that “she seemed surprised over the work's scopea 30-minute cycle in which the singer sings virtually the whole time is rare, but she approached the piece with a determination to master it." Von Otter agrees, and adds that she appreciated the work's “immense expressiveness and the different character of the individual movements. Although the music most often has a tonal focus, the cycle's sheer length and the rhythmic complexity of the fifth movement, 'The Sphinx,' make it intensely demanding."

Although sung by a woman, the cycle adopts Arvid's male perspective on Lydia. In two sections, however, we hear her own voice. In no. 2 she seeks a way out of her confining marriage. In no. 6 the text comes from the final duet in Bizet's Carmen, in which the heroine (a role von Otter knows well), referring to herself, famously exclaims “Free she was born and free she will die!" shortly before she is murdered by Don José. The concluding cabaret song, a Heine setting, is also the last poem that the disillusioned Arvid reads in the novel before he goes away. Although it has a familiar ring, the song is entirely Gefors's own. “I take pride," he says “in writing melodies that seem universal."

Anders Hillborg is perhaps best known for his orchestral works - among them, Eleven Gates (2003), commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Esa-Pekka Salonen - although he has also made an astonishing contribution to the choral repertoire with his overtone piece muoaiyouum and has collaborated with Swedish pop singer Eva Dahlgren. Hillborg composed ...lontana in sonno... in 2003 for von Otter and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra to texts by Petrarch, the 14th-century Italian Renaissance humanist who channelled his obsessive, unrequited love into poetry. In these settings of Sonnets 250 and 301, expressions of Petrarch's emotions before and after the death of his beloved Laura in 1348, Hillborg blends the vocal line with highly imaginative instrumental combinations. As von Otter explains: “The vocal part is instrumentally conceived and is most demanding for the performer. Anders asked me to adjust my singing to the sound of the instruments."

In particular, the dense but clear, vibrato-free, sine-tone sound of string and glass harmonica chords suggests a giant synthesizer, typical of Hillborg's orchestral writing, as well as the spacious acoustics of a cathedral. The lament unfolds from a slow, static introduction with a Gregorian chant-like melody in the voice - here Hillborg is emulating the medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen. The music builds to an intensively ornamented section in which the poet recalls Laura's words - “Do you not remember that last evening?" - as Hillborg introduces a violin solo evoking the hurdy-gurdy of Schubert's Leiermann. ...lontana in sonno... ends as it began - in despair.

Per F. Broman