The concert Hjärtats sånger (Songs of the Heart), in the Romankonsert series at the Grünewaldsalen in Stockholm, was based on a programme of songs spanning the beginning of the XX century: de Frumerie, Wolf, Korngold, von Koch, Strauss, Sjögren, Sibelius. The pianist Magnus Svensson accompanied two Swedish opera singers: the world-renowned Wagnerian soprano Iréne Theorin and the dramatic mezzo soprano Ulrika Tenstam.

Iréne Theorin © Jan-Olav Wedin
Iréne Theorin
© Jan-Olav Wedin

Theorin has made an impression in the opera world as, among others, Brünnhilde and Turandot and she has sung in all the major opera houses. Strangely, this concert marked her debut at the Stockholm Konserthuset, the main concert hall in her native Sweden. Her musical relationship with Magnus Svensson, however, dates thirty years back, when they started working together in Göteborg.

The first set of Songs of the Heart was by Gunnar de Frumerie, based on poems by the Nobel laureate Pär Lagerkvists, who features many religious and mythological motifs in his writings. Tenstam gave a very heart-felt interpretation of de Frumerie, with a dramatic and intense voice. She also performed the Lieder des Abschieds by Korngold, a selection from the Five Chinese Lieder by von Koch, and two songs by Sjögren.

Tenstam's upper register is very beautiful, and the notes are well set and supported; but she lacks legato and her singing does not convey a true sense of phrasing. The lower register is somewhat less supported, but globally, her voice has a pleasant uniformity. She is also an actress, and her acting skills serve her well in her interpretation of the text and in her delivery of the music, which is always moving.

Theorin performed the sets by Wolf, Strauss, and Sibelius. Her dramatic voice was almost too much for the size of the Grünewaldsalen; she has a very powerful instrument. Her high notes are shiny and piercing, and the center of her voice is smooth and seductive. She keeps the vowels a bit too tight, not allowing her voice to bloom by opening them in Italianate style. 

Magnus Svensson and Ulrika Tenstam © Jan-Olav Wedin
Magnus Svensson and Ulrika Tenstam
© Jan-Olav Wedin

She first performed the Mignon Lieder by Wolf based on poems by Goethe, and she was particularly enjoyable in So laßt mich scheinen, a deeply moving piece about death, transfiguration, and eternal life. The highlight of the evening was the set by Richard Strauss: the wonderful Ruhe, meine Seele, and then Allerseelen and Die Georgine. Theorin's voice is very well suited to Strauss; she really understands his style, a fact attested to by her operatic career. Her performance was truly remarkable. In Allerseelen, her voice became more and more longing at every delivery of the words “wie einst im Mai” (as once in May), and she managed to convey the deep sorrow and nostalgia for the lost lover. The final set, by Sibelius, was composed of three songs in her native Swedish; beloved tunes that the audience recognized and appreciated.

The two encores (one by each singer) were by Sjögren again, and Ulrika Tenstam gave her best performance of the evening in this final song, singing more naturally and freely, so that the legato could make the music flow.

Magnus Svensson, with his signature mismatched socks, was very enjoyable and provided, as usual, more than a mere accompaniment; his enjoyment and interpretation of the music was very palpable and helped to bring together a very successful concert.