Longing to Italy …

SwedenSweden A Musical Journey from Nordic Melancholy to Mediterranean Ardour:  Tobias Ringborg (violin and piano), Michael Weinius (tenor and piano). Vattnäs Concert Barn, Vattnäs, Dalecarlia, Sweden. 14.7.2012 (GF)

Humour, musicality and virtuosity characterized the first concert in the Sångfest Song Festival at Vattnäs Concert Barn. Two of the most versatile Swedish musicians invited the 300 listeners to a journey from Scandinavia down to the south of Italy. The starting-point was Birger Sjöberg’s to Swedish listeners well known song Längtan till Italien (Longing to Italy), sung a cappella by Michael Weinius from the balcony and it was followed by an unaccompanied Assaggio in G Minor by The Father of Swedish Music, Johann Helmich Roman. Then the two artists entered the stage and explained the purpose of the journey and we were also informed that the lack of programmes was intentional – there were surprises to come. The itinerary wasn’t exactly straight as an arrow. The trip started with a detour eastwards, to Finland and three songs by Jean Sibelius: Demanten på marssnön, Säf, säf, susa and Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte. Sensitive and nuanced readings and in Flickan kom (The Maid Returned from Meeting her Lover) spine-chilling intensity. Michael Weinius heroic tenor has the steel and volume for the impassioned outbursts and still possesses the ability to scale down his impressive instrument to honeyed pianissimos. Straight down to Denmark then and a world-hit from 1925 that even today everybody recognizes, Jacob Gade’s Tango Jalousie, played with glowing tone by Tobias Ringborg. Next stop: Hamburg, where Johannes Brahms saw the light of day. This gave the two artists an opportunity to settle down at the grand and execute three waltzes for piano duet, the third being the beloved one in A Flat Major. And so followed a long and winding ride through Germany, to Bavaria, where we landed in Bayreuth, the Mecca for Wagner lovers. Winterstürme wichen den Wonnemond  from Die Walküre, also known as Siegmund’s Spring Song, brilliantly sung by Weinius was the end of the first part and the audience was advised to spend the night in Bayreuth. Suitably the night fell during the rather long interval.

Strengthened by the rest we were fit to continue the journey and next halt turned out to be Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where Richard Strauss spent his last years. It was obviously still morning when we arrived there, since the choice of song was Morgen. Here Michael Weinius accompanied himself on the piano, singing with the utmost sensitivity, while Tobias Ringborg played the introduction and obbligato violin part that Strauss wrote for his orchestration of the song.

Our zig-zag traversal of Central Europe then took us to Austria and Vienna and a little quiz: Who wrote this piece for piano duet? It was a march and it sounded martial, so a good guess was Schubert. It was but not the one that everybody knows but Marche militaire No. 2 in G Major. Switzerland also happened to be a stop – we had to pass the Alps – and what music is there that is typically Swiss? Yodelling maybe, but that is hardly Michael Weinius’ cup of tea. They found a way of solving the problem by introducing the most famous flower from the Alp flora, Edelweiss and Richard Rodgers provided the music from Sound of Music, where the Trapp Family manages to escape from Austria. A lovely version with violin obbligato again and participation from the audience. With several eminent singers present the effect was overwhelming.

At last: we were in Italy. Enrico Toselli’s Serenade, once played by every restaurant musician in the world, may not be fashionable any longer but it is a nice tune and Tobias Ringborg played it with a tope and double stops that would have made Fritz Kreisler envious.

The inseparable verismo operas Pagliacci and Cavalleria rusticana brought us to the south of Italy, Pagliacci playing in Calabria at the most southerly point of the peninsula and Cavalleria on the opposite side of the Strait of Messina in Sicily. Vesti la giubba from Pag with Weinius and the Intermezzo from Cav with Ringborg were self-evident choices.

Our goal was reached but we couldn’t stay in Sicily for ever and on returning northwards we passed Naples, where Paolo Tosti learnt his trade as a leading exponent of the Neapolitan song. L’ultima canzone (The Last Song) seemed an appropriate finale, but Michael Weinius had another trump card up his sleeve. He beckoned up Pers Anna Larsson, the owner of the barn, from the audience and placed her on the piano stool not in use at the moment, whereupon he sang a languorous Musica proibita (Forbidden Love) by Stanislao Gastaldon. It’s a wonderful song, supposed to be sung by a young woman who tells of a young man who used to sing beneath her balcony every night. Her mother has forbidden her to sing the song, which begins:

Vorrei baciare i tuoi capelli neri,

Le labbra tue e gli occhi tuoi severi…

(I want to kiss your raven hair,
Your lips and your solemn eyes…)

And Anna acted accordingly. As a reward for the singing Anna handed over the Dalecarlian horse that had presided on the lid of the grand the whole afternoon to the tenor.

Still more was to come. Tobias Ringborg seduced the audience with a riveting Csardas by Vittorio Monti. The composer was Italian but the csardas is of course Hungarian, so it seemed we were taking a further detour on our way back home – at least Michael Weinius seemed to think so, since he incorporated quotations from the Swedish National Anthem in his accompaniment. Then came the inevitable finale: one more piece for piano duet where the pianists changed places several times while still playing. A wonderfully entertaining afternoon with humour, musicality and virtuosity!

Göran Forsling