Ørnen og Skarbassen [The Eagle and the Beetle]
Holger Byrding (bass)
Ingeborg Steffensen (mezzo)
Thyge Thygesen (tenor)
Einar Nørby (bass-baritone)
Marius Jacobsen (tenor)
Poul Wiedemann (tenor-baritone)
Ruth Guldbaek (soprano)
Ellen Margrethe Edlers (soprano)
Georg Leicht (bass)
Niels Juul Bondo (baritone)
Georg Leicht (bass)
Danish Radio Choir
Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 28 January 1954 (Nielsen) & 5 September 1954 (Jeppesen) at Danish Broadcasting Corporation Studio 1
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: December 2020
CD No: DANACORD DACOCD 884 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 3 minutes
The clearly recorded broadcast of Maskarade wears its years very well indeed. Light in bass perhaps but there is the essential vocal clarity – necessary because the printed aid to following the plot features the first line of every scene with English translation preceded by the name of the character. Vilhelm Andersen’s light-hearted libretto, based on Ludvig Holberg’s plot is sung with eagerness and flair, the names of the cast may not be familiar – with perhaps the exception of Ruth Goldbaek in the part of the heroine Leonore.
Awareness of the this delightful opera by record collectors outside Denmark probably resulted from the group of four orchestral excerpts so ably conducted by Thomas Jensen for Decca in the 1950s. Grøndahl also presents these pieces skilfully within the context of the opera. The scene where Magdelone shows her skill as a dancer to others is actually a vocal trio whereas the orchestral excerpt is a beautifully reorchestrated version. I am unable to find the name of the orchestrator – could it have been Nielsen himself?
Grøndahl conducts the Prelude to Act Two most sensitively leading to the comforting tones of the Night Watchman (Georg Leicht) before the lively plot resumes. On reaching Act Three the music becomes more riotous. All the elements of far-fetched opera storylines are here – a Maskarade is the ideal venue for unlikely twists of mistaken identity. No matter about the weirdness of the plot, it is all good fun. The chorus is much in evidence in this Act and the final Kehraus begins to sound more like Offenbach than Nielsen. The cast represents the changing progress of the plot which starts as a believable drama before leading firmly into more unreal and often comical situations. At the end the one threatening character, Jeronimus – Burger of Copenhagen – is barred by the Nightwatchman and prevented from spoiling the riotous party. Nielsen wrote only two operas and Maskarade could not be further in mood from Saul and David.
Following this great outbreak of jollity there comes another highly unlikely story – Aesop’s tale of The Eagle and the Beetle set to music by Knud Jeppesen. This provides a more direct representation of Grøndahl’s art. Whereas Maskarade is about operatic staging and vocal characterisation, this strange fable is in five sections, structured into three movements achieving a quasi symphonic form. The bold choral setting and its imaginative orchestration are the main elements here. The story line is clearly described in the booklet and the Danish words do not need to be fully understood for the skilful choral writing to be appreciated. Don’t worry about the bizarre story, it is the elegant sound of the music that matters. The live recording is of equally high standard to that of the Nielsen and Grøndahl sweeps orchestra and chorus firmly through three well-constructed movements; using challenging harmonies at times; this is rather like a symphony with voices.