Grieg, Songs, A. S. von Otter, B. Forsberg
Sibelius, Songs, A. S. von Otter, B. Forsberg
Swedish Songs (Peterson-Berger, Stenhammar, von Koch), A. S. von Otter, B. Forsberg
One part of the evening's success was the choice of music, full of contrast and range in many courses, like the best meals. The opening pairing, of two songs by Wilhelm Peterson-Berger (1867-1942), was a case in point: the sweeping, epic Intet är som väntanstider (Nothing is like waiting time, from Fridolin's Songs), with Forsberg swooping and swelling on the broad piano part, followed by the dreamy ballad Som stjärnorna på himmelen (Like the stars in the sky -- all singers, go look this song up now, from the Four Songs in Swedish Folktone, op. 5/3), a delicate pastry of delicious consonants and vowels, with Forsberg in both cases knowing just how much sound to provide to support his singer. That Peterson-Berger wrote the opera Arnljot (considered the Swedish national opera, according to the program notes) and was a fierce newspaper critic was icing on the cake. The whole Swedish set -- no "titans," as von Otter put it, but all worth discovering (see her CD of Swedish songs to do just that) -- was like this, with pairings devoted to Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927) -- the chromatically enticing In the Maple's Shade a stand-out -- and Sigurd von Koch (1879-1919), whose Debussy-misty Spring Night's Rain and equally wild, thrashing The Wild Swans were both thrilling.
A set of Sibelius songs, also set to Swedish poetry, was almost a let-down after that, with the exception of the gloomy, surprising My Bird Is Long in Homing, quickly surpassed by the Grieg pairing -- the stately and tender Våren (Spring) and the swaggering lover's boast of Midsummer Eve. The strength of the Nordic half was not the size or volume of von Otter's voice, which could be full and radiant but also elegant and contained, but the delectation of the poetry, like the experience of bathing in Ibsen's Norwegian last week. After spending intermission wishing von Otter would stick to these Nordic songs, it was a welcome surprise to be equally taken by her French diction and way with artless simplicity in French songs, especially Reynaldo Hahn's setting of Paul Verlaine's L'Heure Exquise standing out in a generally fine Hahn set. In the same vein of vaguely perverse sensuality was Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis, with Forsberg's hands providing corrupt pastel wisps of sound behind the evocative melody presented with understated eloquence by von Otter.
Anne Midgette, Anne Sofie von Otter, accompanist Bengt Forsberg beguile with their easy style (Washington Post, March 6)
Anne Sofie von Otter remains in Washington this week, with some rare Nordic weather nicely planned for her, because she will also sing a set of Schubert songs, in some interesting orchestrations, with the National Symphony Orchestra (March 7 to 9).