This recording of Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian music for voice and piano is truly full of little musical diamonds – and a rich introduction to the world of Nordic art song.
Jean Sibelius and Edvard Grieg are the two most familiar composers represented here. Sibelius’s four dramatic songs with broad dynamic shifts and big piano parts are very impressive, but the transparent melancholy of the fifth, Hiljainen kaupunki (The Silent Town), makes it my personal fave. The composer’s own piano transcription of Finlandia receives an extraordinary performance by Saario, and to which Koistinen joins in for the national song – a much more intimate experience than the symphonic version! The seven Norwegian songs by Grieg are perhaps the most varied in mood, despite their relative simplicity and reserve; the little gems here are To Brune Øyne (Two Brown Eyes), En Svane (A Swan) and the hauntingly beautiful (and famous) Solveig’s Song.
Perhaps the most ostentatious compositions on this CD are two songs by Oskar Merikanto (1868-1924), which almost burst with drama and pride - no hint of Nordic understatement here. The one song by Finland’s Yrjö Kilpinen (1892-1959) is an appealing and beautifully crafted piece that makes clear why Kilpinen enjoyed great public popularity. Two of my personal favourites, with their broad palette of colour and texture, were the songs by Toivo Kuula (1883-1918), and Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén (1872-1960) is showcased in four very charming songs.
Duo Freya offers this music up with obvious affection and thoughtful musicality. Though I wish the CD notes included some information on the lesser-known composers, Duo Freya’s spirited and expressive performance is an elegantly convincing introduction to what is, after all, the most important thing.