Mossberg songs harp CDA18452

Torsten Mossberg (tenor)
Songs to Harp from the Old and New World
Stina Hellberg Agback (harp)
rec. 2020, Sickla Studio, Nacka; Grisslinge gård, Ingarö, Sweden
Sung texts printed in the booklet with English translations of the German texts
STERLING CDA1845-2 [55]

Torsten Mossberg continues his admirable series of song recitals – so far I have reviewed seven issues – but the latest one implies a break in the trend, insofar as hitherto he has focused on Swedish repertoire, but this time he goes international and juxtaposes composers as different as Kurt Weill, Richard Strauss and George Gershwin. Or are they as far apart from each other as it may seem initially? To begin with their life-courses overlapped, all three composed operas and Kurt Weill had careers in both Strauss’ Germany and later in Gershwin’s USA. It is true that time of composition of the items on the disc hardly overlap. Richard Strauss wrote his four songs before either of the other two was born, Weill wrote Es regnet while in France in 1933, and the other three in the early 1940s when Gershwin was already gone. So the simile limps somewhat. But on the other hand Mossberg’s way of singing the songs here to some extent irons out the differences in style.

He treats some of Gershwin’s finest jazz influenced songs more like German lieder with slower tempos and exquisite legato, sometimes with honeyed tone in the mould of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby in crooning mood – and he doesn’t underplay the rhythmic elements – even though it is “light” swing. It is a fresh approach, and one listens with fresh ears and savours the congenial lyrics by the brilliant Ira Gershwin. Mossberg’s articulation is, as always, very clear and his English is spotless. Stina Hellberg Agback’s excellent harp playing has gilded several of Mossberg’s earlier discs. Here she is sole accompanist throughout and this works very well most of the time. She also, rightly, is allowed to feature as soloist in some improvised interludes. It should be added that Mossberg sings the full texts, not only the choruses.

To go from the Strauss section to the Gershwin songs wasn’t as brave a change as one could have expected, since Mossberg had sung Strauss in the same manner, soft and inward and also here focusing on the texts. The songs belong to the most beautiful and lovable, and Stina Hellberg Agback plays the postlude to Morgen! delectably. Sometimes, though, I feel that the harp is too closely recorded and can’t be as soft and integrated as a piano – but that is a marginal defect.

The one who stands out in this triumvirate is the chameleon Kurt Weill. In his two settings of Walt Whitman poems he is at his most intense and dramatic, even most modernistic. The first O Captain! My Captain! was written to the memory of Abraham Lincoln after he had been killed. Dirge for two Veterans describes the funeral march for a father and his son who were killed during the Civil War. It is dark and ominous. Mossberg sings them with great intensity. Weill set another two poems by Whitman, and all four were recorded quite recently by John Matthew Myers (review). What triggered Weill to set three of them was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941. None of the songs were performed during Weill’s lifetime. Es regnet, a tango to a German text by Weill himself, was composed in France in 1933, shortly after he had left Germany when Hitler came to power. It is rarely heard, and one can hear echoes of his The Threepenny Opera. The fourth song, My Ship, is an American standard with a text by Ira Gershwin, George’s older brother. It is softly sung with great feeling and a long harp solo interlude.

A somewhat unusual combination of composers, theoretically speaking, but in practice it works splendidly and is another feather in Mossberg’s by now well-adorned cap.

Göran Forsling

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Kurt Weill (1900 – 1950)
1. O Captain! My Captain! (1941) [4:08]
2. Dirge for two veterans (1942) [3:58]
3. Es regnet (1933) [3:15]
4. My ship (1941) [4:43]
Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949)
5. Die Nacht (1885) [2:40]
6. Breit’ über mein Haupt dein schwarzes Haar (1885-88) [1:44]
7. Morgen! (1894) [3:22]
8. Traum durch die Dämmerung (1895) [2:49]
George Gershwin (1898 – 1937)
9. Oh, lady be good (1924) [4:20]
10. Someone to watch over me (1926) [6:45]
11. How long has this been going on (1927) [4:28]
12. But not for me (1930) [4:20]
13. They can’t take that away from me (1937) [4:17]
14. Love is here to stay (1938) [4:16]