Thursday, 29 December 2011

Christmas from Sweden

On Friday we went to the Wigmore Hall for the Christmas from Sweden concert with a varied programme performed by Margareta Bengtson (soprano, harp), Bengt Forsberg (piano), Mats Lidstrom (cello), Robert Maskell (speaker) and the Ulrika Eleonora Church Choir (the choir of London's Swedish Church) directed by Carina Einarson. The artistic director for the evening was Mats Lidstrom.

The evening opened with Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring performed by the choir, but the strongest theme running through the evening was the wide variety of traditional songs performed in Sweden at Christmastime. These varied from traditional Swedish carols and childrens songs to music by composers such as Franzen, Tegner and Nordqvist who are barely known in the UK. At the end of the first half Bengtson performed a medley of a different type of traditional Christmas songs, this time from America; thanks to the ubiquity of film and television these are now part of the Swedish Christmas. Bengtson sang them in idiomatic English and introduced the Swedish items, even performing some of the songs in both English and Swedish.

Robert Maskell performed a traditional Swedish Christmas poem, Tomten by Viktor Ridberg.

Some of the traditional songs were performed in Mats Lidstrom's imaginative arrangements for cello and piano and he also gave us his own striking variations on the Swedish National Anthem. I have to confess that I did not recognise this latter, but the variations were imaginative and entertaining, and brilliantly played by their composer.

Accompanist Bengt Forsberg did sterling service, accompanying the choir, the cellist and the soprano but he also had his own solo spot. He played Walter Rummel's gloriously romantic arrangement of an aria from Bach's cantata no. 127, Die Seele ruht in Jesu Handen.

Bengtson's soprano voice is a jazz-based instrument and she sings with microphone. I have to confess that this was the first time that I have heard amplification used at the Wigmore Hall. But Bengtson's voice is a beautiful instrument which was nicely balanced with the other (unamplified performers). She has a clear, high voice which she uses imaginatively. She opened the 2nd half with a pair of songs which she sang to her own accompaniment on the harp (her first instrument of study when she was at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm). These were magical and I could have listened to these folk-influenced performances all evening.

The evening concluded with a pair of traditional carols, arranged for the assembled forces including 2 extra cellos (Tamsy Kaner and Judith Herbert).

In the interval we were treated to Swedish gingerbread and mulled wine. All in all a fascinating and enjoyable evening which made a welcolme alternative to the standard fare on offer in London.

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