Friday, 23 August 2019

Intimate & highly engaging: Mari Eriksmoen & Sveinung Bjelland in recital at Oscarshall Palace, Oslo

Mari Eriksmoen and Sveinung Bjelland at Osarshall Palace, Queen Sonja International Music Competition (Photo Sven Gjeruldsen, The Royal Court)
Mari Eriksmoen and Sveinung Bjelland at Osarshall Palace,
Queen Sonja International Music Competition (Photo Sven Gjeruldsen, The Royal Court)
Hugo Wolf, Edvard Grieg, Robert Schumann, Richard Strauss; Mari Eriksmoen, Sveinung Bjelland; Queen Sonja International Music Competition at Oscarshall Palace
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 August 2019 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Hosted by the Queen of Norway, an intimate yet highly engaging and vividly performed recital of German and Norwegian lieder

Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway introducing the recital at Osarshall Palace, Queen Sonja International Music Competition (Photo Sven Gjeruldsen, The Royal Court)
Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway introducing the recital at Osarshall Palace,
Queen Sonja International Music Competition
(Photo Sven Gjeruldsen, The Royal Court)
The Queen Sonja International Music Competition (Dronning Sonja Internasjonale Musikkonkurranse), which runs in Oslo, Norway from 13 to 23 August 2019, is a biennial voice competition. Named for the present Queen of Norway, Queen Sonja takes an active role in the competition and on 22 August 2019, the day before the finale, hosted a concert at Oscarshall Palace, their bijou 19th century neo-Gothic Summer palace. The concert was due to be given by soprano Melissa Petit, but she had to withdraw owing to illness and her place was taken at short notice by soprano Mari Eriksmoen, who was a finalist in the 2007 competition. Accompanied by pianist Sveinung Bjelland, Mari Eriksmoen sang a programme of songs by Hugo Wolf, Edvard Grieg, Robert Schumann and Richard Strauss.

Built in 1852, before Norway achieved independence, by King Oscar I (King of Sweden and King of Norway), Oscarshall features interior decoration by some of the most significant Norwegian artists of the day. The concert took place in the dining room, which with its striking Romantic neo-Gothic decoration. Large for a dining room, but small for a concert hall, it proved to have attractively warm acoustics, with a very immediate sound which showed off Mari Eriksmoen's lovely vibrant lyric voice and her excellent diction.

Oscarshall Palace (Photo Stine Rotnes, Queen Sonja International Music Competition)
Oscarshall Palace (Photo Stine Rotnes,
Queen Sonja International Music Competition)
They started with a group of Hugo Wolf songs, first three songs from the Italienisches Liederbuch. Du denkst mir mit einem fädchen (You think that you can catch me with a tiny string) was full of vibrant character, vividly projected, whilst Auch kleine Dinge (Even small things can delight us) had a beautiful lyric line with lovely, warm tone, and tender piano accompaniment from Bjelland. Here, and throughout the recital, we appreciated Eriksmoen's diction, not just the clarity of projection of the German words but her attention to them. Mir ward gesagt (They told me you were going away) brought a real tingle thanks to Eriksmoen's shapely phrasing and combination of delicacy and intensity. Next came the Goethe setting, Die Spröde (Coy), which was completely delightful yet with a deeper meaning too, with very striking piano accompaniment. Finally, in the Wolf group, the lyrical  rapture of the Mörike setting, Er ist's (Spring is here), with its delicate web of piano. These were performances which reminded you of how wonderful Wolf songs can be, and how remarkably full of expressive detail in such tiny songs.

Next came a group of songs in Eriksmoen's native Norwegian, by Edvard Grieg. Introducing them, Eriksmoen explained that she lived very close to Grieg's house near Bergen. Killingdans (Goats Dance) from Grieg's cycle Haugtussa was very characterful, with strong folk-music hints (both rhythmic and melodic) in the voice and piano. Ved Rondane (At Rondane) from 12 Songs Opus 33 was touching, full of lyric melancholy yet beautiful in its simplicity. En Fuglevise (A Birdsong) from Six songs, Opus 25 featured a long piano introduction, and was quiet and rather mesmerising. Finally, in this group, Solveig's Vuggevise (Solveig's cradle song) from Peer Gynt Opus 23, was performed with real affection, with Bjelland's piano matching the vibrancy and vividness of Eriksmoen's performance.

Next Bjelland played the first three of Robert Schumann's ETA Hoffmann-inspired Fantasiestücke Opus 12, 'Des Abends' (In the evening), 'Aufschwung' (Soaring) and 'Warum' (Why?). The first was intimate and full of melancholy, and we could admire the way Bjelland shaped Schumann's phrases. The second contrasted, full of vivid impetuosity whilst the delicacy of the third featured a lovely complex interweaving of lines.

Bjelland and Eriksmoen immediately followed this with Richard Strauss' Kornblumen (Cornflower) from Mädchenblumen which might be described as the young Strauss at his most Schumann-esque, with Eriksmoen singing with a lovely radiant sound. Strauss' Ständchen (Serenade) was engagingly impetuous with Eriksmoen's long, spun lines complemented by Bjelland's delicate, yet vibrant piano.

Sveinung Bjelland at Osarshall Palace, Queen Sonja International Music Competition (Photo Sven Gjeruldsen, The Royal Court)
Sveinung Bjelland at Osarshall Palace,
Queen Sonja International Music Competition (Photo Sven Gjeruldsen, The Royal Court)
Finally, we returned to Schumann for Widmung, the first song from Myrthen, Opus 25 his wedding present to Clara. This was suitably impetuous, with both performers showing a sense of engagement with the meaning of text, and despite Eriksmoen using music for this song (most had been sung from memory) she was finely communicative. A suitable end to what was a lovely, intimate and highly engaging recital from two vividly communicative performers.

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