Transparent, elegant and poetic. The songs of Norwegian composer Catharinus Elling are so far unheard by most of us, but with these enthusiastic and sparkling performances by Ann-Helen Moen and Gunilla Süssmann, we have good hopes that this will change. No wonder Grieg held Elling as the most interesting of the younger generation, and became his champion.
Catharinus Elling (1858–1942)
Born in Oslo into a family where music played an important part, he was sent to study philology, but managed to get enough money together for a stay at the Conservatory in Leipzig. In 1885 Elling had his breakthrough as a composer, greatly helped by a splendid review written by Edvard Grieg and published in Bergens Tidende. With a letter of recommendation from Grieg attached, Elling’s compositions earned him a place in Herzogenberg’s class at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. Here he married Norwegian Ulla Ramm, and it was the income from her successful massage institute (a skill she had learned while in the USA) that put food on the table, allowing Elling to concentrate on his compositions. After returning to Oslo, Elling was given a position at the Music Conservatory, where his students included Fartein Valen, David Monrad Johansen and Pauline Hall.
The music of Elling
The music of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms was Elling’s inspiration. He finished two symphonies, various orchestral works, chamber music, around 200 songs, choral pieces, works for piano and an opera. On this recording we find the op. 12, songs to lyrics by German romantic poets, and the later songs to contemporary Norwegian poetry. Elling wrote his Haugstussa songs immediately after Garborg had published the cycle in 1895. Neither Grieg nor Elling knew they were working on the same project at the same time. It would seem that Elling searches for a poetical and lyrical core – both in the way he selects and musically interprets the texts – than does Grieg. His approach opens up to other qualities of Garborg’s masterwork.
Ann-Helen Moen and Gunilla Süssmann have both attracted international attention over the last couple of years. Moen was a full time soloist of Opera Graz, Austria. With great success – for shining Mozart interpretations in particular – she is now a guest at key opera houses in Europe. She made her USA debut with the Andsnes Project in Carnegie Hall in 2005. Gunilla Süssmann is much in demand both as soloist and chamber musician. She has given recitals in Concertgebouw and Wigmore Hall, and 2009 saw her debut in the USA.