Come Away, Death = KORNGOLD: Come Away, Death; WOLFGANG PLAGGE: Sodergran Songs; SIBELIUS: Come Away, Death; MAJA SOLVEIG KJELSTRUP RATKJE: HVIL; FINZI: Come Away, Death; MUSSORGSKY: Songs and Dances of Death – Marianne Beate Kielland, mezzo soprano/ Sergej Osadchuk, piano – 2L multichannel SACD 064, 63:30 [Distr. by Naxos] ****1/2:
Despite Kielland’s insistence that she knows the idea of an album about death might be a little risky (it is), I think it could be a tad less tawdry if the cover art did not feature a painting of a boat with a man’s naked corpse lying in it (“Man in boat” by Odd Nerdrum). Perhaps the title alone on a blank page, “Come Away, Death” might have sufficed—I guess the 2L marketing department will have to be the judge of that, but I do hope as many people as possible will hear this remarkable SACD, for there is some very life-giving music to be found on it. [Ah, those moody Scandinavians…Ed.]
The three “Come Aways” are of course taken from the texts of William Shakespeare:
“Come away, come away, death
And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death no one so true
Did share it.
Not a flower, not a flower sweet
On my black coffin let there be strown;
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!”
This is a song the clown sings in the Bard’s comedy Twelfth Night, so it is important to contextualize it. This did not keep Korngold, Sibelius, and Finzi (among others) from penning stunning versions of the poem using of course the more dire and morbid aspects of the text, despite the setting. But each is effective in its own different way, each composer emitting a somber and sad countenance to the piece in vastly different and equally effective musical language.
The newer works are also very moving, albeit in different ways as well. Wolfgang Plagge’s view of the Sodergran Songs (after poet Edith Sodergran’s collection published in 1916) is wonderfully affecting with its use of dark coloration and quiet harmonies that are sparsely rendered according to need. My one criticism of this production is the refusal of 2L to offer more in-depth commentary on the Ratkje setting HVIL (“Rest”), supposedly something to do with the earth’s cry of humankind’s abuse of the natural world or something like that, and the need to “slow down”, sympathies that would have more resonance with me if it didn’t seem so exaggerated. But from the clutter of the notes emerges the statement that the texts are “untranslatable” and as this piece is the most difficult to understand the first time through—and the very topic would seem to beg for clarity—a ½ star deduction is in place. There seem to be some interesting moments in the work, including the use of big chords, vocal inflections, etc., but couple these with the lack of what the thing is actually about—in normal detail—and it becomes a little harder to understand what is going on.
Mussorgsky’s opus is very well covered in the catalog, and always welcome in a performance as moving as this one. The composer wrote the first three songs at once, and then added a forth two years later, the cycle being the highlight of his entire song-writing career. Marianne Beate Kielland has a rich and calorie-laden mezzo that is unwavering in its commitment to these songs, presented with a vibrant and well-focused sense of textual integrity and unassailable melodic emphasis. She is definitely one to look out for, and this recording, despite the uneasiness its title may provoke, will reward richly in its luscious SACD surround sound.
— Steven Ritter