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Launch and Gala Finale of From-Sweden.com festival

Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo soprano. Bengt Forsberg, piano

Wigmore Hall, Sunday 4 April 2004


Jutta kommer till Folkungarna; I lönnens skymning, Op. 37, Nos.1 & 2
Gammal nederländare, Op. 20, No.3
Skyn, blomman och en lärka
Kyssande vind
Aulin 4 serbiska folksånger after J L Runeberg
Wiklund Intermezzo in B minor, Op. 8, No.1
Rangström En Gammal dansrytm; Den enda stunden; Sköldmön
Boldemann 4 Epitaphs, Op.10: Sarah Brown; Ollie McGee; Mabel Osborne; William and Emily
Dale Night Fancies impromptu for piano
Ferguson 5 Irish Songs, Op. 17
Phillips April is a Lady
Carew Love's a Merchant


Anne Sofie von Otter's recital on 04/04/04 gave a foretaste of "From-Sweden", a festival of thirty concerts programmed by cellist Mats Lidström, mainly at Wigmore Hall and the Barbican until Midsummer 2005. The aim is to present fine Swedish and British artists in music that reveals common threads in their nations' music. The programme has a special focus on the earlier 20th century, a time that saw a music renaissance in both countries. (Trawling the repertoire with Bengt Forsberg, coming up to the present day, Anne Sofie 'didn't find anything that really spoke to us'!)

The recital found her in fine voice, relishing singing in her native language, well received by her capacity audience, many conversing in Swedish in the foyer. But the fare was disappointingly bland for Wigmore Hall regulars, nor did the selection seem to show some of the less unknown of the composers in best light. Many of the songs were short, with strange verses that seemed to give us only half of the story - the maiden invited into the king's castle now weeps silently; why?

Nothing not instantly forgettable in the first half, but Laci Boldemann's Epitaphs, four settings (in English) from Lee Masters's post-mortem autobiographical "epitaphs" 'spoken' by 244 residents of an Illinois graveyard. Striking in their mock-solemn irony, they tell us the truth with the honesty no fear of consequences enables. But the tempi were relentlessly slow and measured (17 mins for 4 short verses) so once may be enough? The whole Spoon River Anthology is on line to be read and enjoyed, short, pithy poems - you can read two or three of them during the time it takes to sing one of the songs!

The English selection to end likewise disappointed, with (for some of us) a mildly embarrasing descent into the arch Edwardian humour of Montague Phillips and Molly Carew.

Gala Finale of From-Sweden Festival
Wigmore Hall, 13 June 2005

'Songs for a Summer Night' In the presence of Elisabeth Söderström.
Anne Sofie von Otter & Bengt Forsberg, Lena Willemark, Ale Möller & Per Gudmundson, Bengan Janson & Kalle Moraeus, & many others...

Karin Rehnqvist : Puksånger - lockrop
Frifot sings folk songs of Sweden
Evert Taube : Fragancia, Linnéa, Så skimrande var aldrig havet
Fiona Talkington speaks to Elisabeth Söderström
Ralph Vaughan Williams/Kildea: Serenade to Music
Wilhelm Peterson-Berger : Intet är som väntans tider
Sigurd von Koch : Vårnattsregnet
Bo Linde : Äppelträd och Päronträd
Gunnar de Frumerie : Nu är det sommarmorgon
Lars Erik Larsson : Akvarell, Flickan med kyrkroten, Kistemålaren
Lennox Berkeley : Andantino
3 Irish Folksongs
Benny Anderson : Hemma
Mikael Wiehe : Stormande vals

Anne Sofie von Otter and Bengt Forsberg returned in the second half of a long evening to round off this prolonged Anglo-Swedish festival, which has been a mixed success and in London generally poorly attended. This gala evening was well supported and enjoyed by the enthusiastic Swedish contingent.

Gala concerts are generally to be avoided and this was no exception. They tend to be bitty, with too many items crammed in, and too much self-congratulation in the introductions. There was an appallingly embarrassing indiscretion in bringing onto the platform the elderly and very frail and confused Elisabeth Soderstrom, who scarcely knew where she was and could not put several sentences together. Paul Kildea's reduction of Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music for 16 singers with piano and string ensemble was misconceived and should be laid to rest; they had filled up the stage and back-stage so that well-wishers were dissuaded from going to congratulate people afterwards. One or two phrases each from some of the best young singers around, not worth it all in our view. England was otherwise represented by a nice little Andantino by Lennox Berkeley.

Anne Sofie was relaxed and delighted as always in a group of mainly early 20 C Swedish songs, none of them really memorable. It all ended with Irish and Swedish folksongs with violin and accordion.

If a repetition of this venture is planned, as seemed to be suggested, it should be curated by someone who will embrace the wealth of contemporary music making and composition in Sweden which we happily encountered recently in Stockholm.

Reviews of other concerts are consolidated in the Festivals UK section)

Go to From-Sweden.com for details of the Festival programmes.

© Peter Grahame Woolf