LSM-ONLINE-LOGO2JPG.jpg (4855 bytes)

Back Issues
LSM Issues
LSV Issues
Throat Doctor
Concert Reviews
CD Critics
Books Reviews
PDF Files

About LSM
LSM News
Guest Book
Contact Us
Site Search
Web Search

The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

ABBA Sung by Mezzo-Soprano Still Sounds Crass: Norman Lebrecht

By Norman Lebrecht / October 5, 2006

Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) -- On Anne-Sofie von Otter's new album for Deutsche Grammophon, ``I Let the Music Speak,'' the final track comes as a surprise, since it is listed nowhere in the glossy trilingual booklet, not even in the obligatory back credits.

What's more, the last song is hidden behind 45 seconds of silence, a bonus for any rapt listener who did not get up and change the disc when the music stopped. So what's the big secret?

The statuesque operatic mezzo, one of Sweden's most successful musical exports since the 1980s pop group ABBA, has been immersing herself in the music of, yes, ABBA. For the sake of respectability on the world's premier classical label, she describes it as the oeuvre of Benny Andersson, the group's principal songwriter.

To fudge the aesthetic offense, Von Otter, 51, makes out that her aim is to bring to light the lesser-known and more upmarket creations of the bearded Andersson, who partners her on the disc in a variety of musical accompaniments, from solo piano to standard middle-of-the-road studio band.

In addition to an item from ``Chess,'' the short-lived Andersson-Tim Rice stage musical, there are two folkish tracks in Swedish from the 1996 musical ``Kristina van Duvemala,'' a long- running Stockholm hit about 19th century Swedish migrants to Minnesota that has failed to transfer to the world stage.

No Frenzy

The rest, however, is crassly ABBA, as commercially formulaic as anything cooked up in a dark studio since the dawn of pop charts. ``I Am Just a Girl,'' ``The Winner Takes It All'' and ``The Day Before You Came'' are delivered without the belting frenzy of pop style and with more than one musical line bent crescent-shaped in ironic detachment.

``I'm not doing Benny's songs for a commercial reason,'' insisted Von Otter when I talked to her soon after the sessions in 2004. ``No music makes me cry as his does -- like pushing a stupid button.''

Her protestations notwithstanding, the refined trills of one of the finest Monteverdi and Handel singers of the day -- she performs ``Theodora'' in Paris and London this month -- are as wasted on the trivial ABBA ephemeral titles as a Michelin-starred chef would be in a drive-in McDonald's. What this dross is doing on Deutsche Grammophon, which the conductor Herbert von Karajan led to world classical dominance, is a matter for the conscience of a few senior executives at Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group, the yellow label's U.S.- based owner. They are dumbing down the musical content and quality faster than a Lang Lang piano prestissimo.

Cabaret Loot

Still, on paper at least, it appears that Von Otter has stopped short of attempting ``Waterloo,'' ABBA's 1974 Eurovision Song Contest breakthrough number, and ``Money, Money, Money,'' the 1976 hit of untrammeled greed. Or so you think, until the hidden final track brings up the 3Ms in a quasi- cabaret version with accordion and strings and more than a hint of Kurt Weill.

That does not, by any bending of genres, make it a deathless work of art or anything more than it purports to be -- an admission ticket to ``a rich man's world.'' So what is it doing on classy Deutsche Grammophon among the string quartets and symphony orchestras? I fear the answer lies in the title of that unlisted final track.

(Norman Lebrecht is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this story: Norman Lebrecht at

To be notified of the next Lebrecht article, please email mikevincent at scena dot org

Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



(c) La Scena Musicale 2001-2006