I Hate Music

SwedenSweden I Hate Music. Soloists, Mårten Landström (piano). Vattnäs Concert Barn, Vattnäs, Dalecarlia. Sweden. 18.7.2012 (GF)

I Hate Music may seem a less than inviting title to a programme with Broadway musical songs. Don’t believe a word of it! From the very first moment of this delectable concert it was obvious that all the singers, and pianist Mårten Landström, loved this music. Landström was on stage, extemporizing delicious background music on the Bechstein grand long before the show began. And show it was in a cosy family atmosphere: a nice coach, fruit and sparkling wine, the male participants in dinner jacket. As so often these days in this repertoire the sound was amplified, which allowed the singers to scale down their operatic voices to the more intimate size of some of the songs. The singers, young and upcoming, were not household names to the general public – I suppose – but they were truly excellent: good voices, ability to communicate with the audience, stage presence.

Tenor Tobias Westman was the first to enter the stage, as Tony in West Side Story in one of the great love songs of the last half century, Maria. Ideally smooth delivery, maybe a mite too operatic in his forte. But his Maria, Eva-Lotta Ohlsson, reacted positively from the balcony (where else in this Romeo and Juliet drama?) and after a while she descended from the upper regions and the two united in Tonight. he audience was already enthralled and that atmosphere remained for the rest of the evening.

Göran Eliasson, managing director of the concert barn, married to Pers Anna Larsson and the mastermind behind this Broadway programme, gave us Kurt Weill’s and Ogden Nash’s Speak Low. Everybody knows the song, fewer probably that it is from the 1943 musical One Touch of Venus, a great success, later made into a rather floppy film, starring Ava Gardner. Göran, the veteran among the singers, evoked memories of another veteran, Tony Bennett, with some evocative soft crooning.

Tevye’s If I Were a Rich Man, from Fiddler On The Roof, introduced us to Henning von Schulman’s rich bass voice and charismatic stage presence, followed by his baritone colleague Anton Ljungqvist with a honeyed version of Lerner & Loewe’s If Ever I Would Leave You from Camelot, Thomas Hampson like in his elegant reading.

Then there was some deviation from the printed programme. No big deal, of course, and we could uninhibitedly savour Eva-Lotta Ohlsson’s lovely Memory from Lloyd Webber’s Cats. She has a voice that is cut out for musical. Tobias Westman returned to sing the only song that was not a Broadway musical melody, Paul Simon’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters, but he defended the choice by stating that Simon at least was born in New York. Tobias sang it with warmth and Mårten Landström amply demonstrated what an excellent pianist he is.

In All I Ask Of You from The Phantom of the Opera. Lisa Gustafsson and Göran Eliasson played a disillusioned couple in different corners of the coach, the one reading a women’s weekly the other deeply engrossed in the sports pages of the local daily, but little by little interest awakened and the two ended up in a passionate embrace that seemed to last for ever. The audience cheered encouragingly.

Still sweating after the intense close encounter Göran Eliasson joined the other three guys in a riveting act finale: New York, New York. 

The second act opened with Stars from Les Miserables, sung meltingly and magnificently by Anton Ljungqvist. Here is a voice of great potential, pared with his capacity to ‘own the stage’.

Göran Eliasson returned, now cooled down, with a superb rendering of Anthem from Andersson and Ulvaeus’s Chess, and then Eva-Lotta Ohlsson appeared as Eliza in My Fair Lady with a medley of three songs. Henning von Schulman complained that basses are always poor in the world of Broadway musical and as an example he performed Ol’ Man River, Joe’s song from Showboat, made immortal by Paul Robeson. Henning’s low register was impressively black and voluminous. He is certainly a man for Sarastro’s sepulchral notes in Die Zauberflöte. In the company of Eva-Lotta we remained on, or at least close to, the Mississippi and the same musical with a lazy swinging, bluesy rendering of Julie La Verne’s Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man Of Mine. The two lower voices, Henning and Anton took us even further away, down to South Pacific and You’ll Never Walk Alone.

The finale was a selection from Andersson and Ulvaeus’s Kristina från Dufvemåla, a musical premiered in 1995 based on Wilhelm Moberg’s novels about Swedish emigrants to America in the 19th century. It became immensely popular in Sweden but never reached Broadway, probably due to the Swedish perspective, but has been performed in concert versions at Carnegie Hall and Royal Albert Hall and last season it was a great success at the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki. Tobias and Lisa sang and acted this tragic tale touchingly, many in the audience couldn’t resist shedding a tear or two, even the singers were deeply moved.

One could have wished that the concert had stopped there, it was so heartrending, but a gala like this should of course end on a happier note and we were treated to some more music from The Phantom of the Opera and finally a reprise of New York, New York with the whole ensemble.

With intelligent use of colourful lighting, relaxed and humoristic comments between numbers and wholehearted commitment from everybody involved this was another feather in the cap for the 2012 Sångfest at the Vattnäs Concert Barn. May it prosper even more next summer.

Göran Forsling