Malin Byström in a New Recital

Bystrom - Orchestral Songs

BERG: 7 Frühe Lieder. DUPARC: Au pays où se fait la guerre. Chanson triste. Le manoir de Rosamonde. La vie antérieure. Extase. L’invitation au voyage. RANGSTRÖM: Den mőrka blommen. Skold och svard: Sköldmön. 6 Poems by Bo Bergman: No. 1, Vingar i natten (Wings of the Night); No. 3, Melodi. The Dark Flower (excerpts): No. 1, Vingar i natten (Wings of Night); No. 2, Bon till natten (Prayer to the Night) / Malin Byström, sop; Helsingborg Symphony Orch.; Stefan Solyom, cond / Swedish Society Discofil SCD1168

Malin Byström is a Swedish soprano trained at the University College of Opera in Stockholm and coached by Jonathan Morris, still a frequent collaborator, since 1997. In 2016 she received the Litteris et Artibus medal, and in 2018 was appointed Court Singer by the King.

Byström has a pronounced flutter-vibrato that is occasionally uneven, though it evens out on sustained high notes; this takes some getting used to. Her performances, however, are expressive, which compensates for some of this. In Berg’s 7 Frühe Lieder, her interpretations are similar in style and form to those of Susan Graham in the piano-accompanied version with Malcolm Martineau, but in the orchestral versions no one can beat the late Jessye Norman.

The problem that I hear in Byström’s singing, however, is a certain sameness in approach regardless of the material. She sings the Duparc songs exactly as she sings the Berg, and the Rangström exactly as she sings the Duparc. I suppose that, for those with limited experience in older recordings, this is just fine, but for me it’s not quite enough. I still have the sound of Janet Baker’s voice in my ears singing Au pays où se fait la guerre, L’invitation au voyage , La vie antérieure and Le manoir de Rosamonde as well as Gérard Souzay singing Extase in my mind, and Byström doesn’t really measure up to them, particularly in vocal control.

By contrast, however, Stefan Solyom’s conducting is really exceptional, much better, in fact, than André Previn’s mushy accompaniment for Baker on her EMI recordings of these songs. I was especially impressed by the way he conducted Le manoir de Rosamonde. Interestingly, in the Duparc songs Byström seemed to have tightened up her vibrato a bit. Her upper range at full volume has a peculiarly unpleasant timbre, however, as in the case of many Scandinavian sopranos.

In the music of Ture Rangström, however, Bylström has few rivals, and she sings these pretty well. So the CD is valuable for this material, at least, and Solyom’s conducting continues to impress in these songs as well.

It isn’t often that I recommend a vocal recital CD for the conducting, but this is one those rare times. Bylström’s singing, though uneven, is at least interesting most of the time.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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