Aksel Schiotz, Vol. X - Carl Nilsen   (Danacord 460)
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Aksel Schiotz, Vol. X - Carl Nilsen   (Danacord 460)
V0486. AKSEL SCHIØTZ: The Complete Recordings, Vol.X, The Complete Carl Nilsen Recordings, incl. rare variant 'takes'. (Denmark) Danacord 460, recorded 1938-43. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 5709499460009

CRITIC REVIEW:

“It is no surprise that many present-day enthusiasts of singing are unfamiliar with the Danish tenor Aksel Schiøtz. He effectively stopped performing 50 years ago and died in 1975, in Copenhagen. But Schiøtz was a remarkable artist, and his distinctive timbre and superb powers of interpretation have secured cult status for him among connoisseurs of the voice.

Schiøtz's reputation has only been enhanced by the brevity of his singing career, for he was almost killed by a brain tumor in 1946, when he was 39 and at the height of his powers. A risky operation saved his life, but the right side of his face was permanently paralyzed and his voice forever altered. After trying to resuscitate his career as a tenor, Schiøtz bravely set out to retrain as a baritone. All such efforts were unsuccessful, and he eventually gave up singing and embarked on a productive teaching career.

Danacord’s impressive undertaking comprises all of the tenor's commercial recordings made before his illness. Beginning in 1933 with some light popular fare and ending in 1946 with, among other things, a legendary recording of Schumann's DICHTERLIEBE, the series celebrates Schiøtz's years of greatness, pointedly avoiding records that might otherwise tarnish his reputation.

Danacord licensed the recordings from EMI, and the crisp, natural-sounding transfers were made by the gifted Andrew Walter, who used original metal masters whenever possible.

What immediately strikes the listener on hearing these recordings is the tenor's achingly beautiful, slightly pinched tone. Like his near-contemporary Jussi Björling, Schiøtz possessed an exciting, ringing sound, but what distinguished him from his colleagues was a seemingly preternatural connection with the music he performed, a highly personal interpretive sense that came straight from the heart.

To get an idea of Schiøtz's special qualities, one could hardly do better than to begin with the first disk in the series (DACOCD 451), an astonishingly satisfying potpourri of music by Handel, Mozart, John Dowland and others. The two excerpts from Handel's MESSIAH and the Dowland songs reveal the tenor's unparalleled ability to sing in languages not his own: in this case, English. But it is not just his diction that makes Schiøtz inimitable. Hearing the contrast between the three plaintive Dowland tunes and the six ardent Mozart arias, one wonders, can this really be the same singer? Only the tenor's singular sound assures one that it is.

An earlier recording of DICHTERLIEBE , long thought lost, was produced in late 1942 and never before issued - the centerpiece of the double-disk volume (458). Schiøtz sounds less engaged here, but his characteristic rapid vibrato and dark-hued timbre emerge vividly. As in most of the albums here, assorted, often obscure Scandinavian songs serve as pleasant fillers.

The abundance of Northern European art, folk and popular song in this series may not interest listeners outside Scandinavia, but there are gems among the surfeit. The romantic ballads of Carl Michael Bellman and C. E. F. Weyse are especially rewarding. Moreover, much of the Danish material is of historical interest, for during World War II, Schiøtz's clarion voice was a source of great comfort to his countrymen, suffering under Nazi occupation.

Particularly appealing is the disk composed entirely of Nielsen songs (460). Though often sentimental or overtly patriotic, these melodies have tremendous power to move, when delivered by an artist as compelling as Schiøtz.

Several offbeat items are also worth savoring, including a heartfelt account of ‘Silent Night’ sung in Danish to organ accompaniment (455) and a reworking of Stephen Foster's ‘Gentle Annie’ (457), here entitled ‘May Song’. But it is the tenor's idiomatic crooning of Cole Porter's ‘Night and Day’ (459) that really beguiles.

Schiøtz's relatively narrow repertory and his drastically curtailed performing career insured that superstar status would never be his. Yet thanks to this lovingly and intelligently compiled series, which counts the tenor's widow, Gerd Schiøtz, among its producers, Aksel Schiøtz's artistry lives on, and music lovers can once again marvel that the soul of a poet flourished in the voice of a remarkable singer, if only briefly.”

- David Mermelstein, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 11 Jan., 1998