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I Let The Music Speak
     

I Let The Music Speak

by Anne Sofie von Otter
 
It's a match made in Sweden, and one that's been rumored for several years: mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter covering the songs of ABBA. Some opera fans (and probably some ABBA fans, for that matter) will surely poke fun at the idea, but their smirks will turn into smiles when they hear just how much fun

Overview

It's a match made in Sweden, and one that's been rumored for several years: mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter covering the songs of ABBA. Some opera fans (and probably some ABBA fans, for that matter) will surely poke fun at the idea, but their smirks will turn into smiles when they hear just how much fun the results actually are. Best remembered for disco staples like "Dancing Queen" and "Fernando" -- neither of which von Otter attempts here, which is probably for the best -- ABBA are known to connoisseurs as purveyors of that elusive "perfect pop" quality, and to hear songs like "The Winner Takes It All" and "The Day Before You Came" in these new versions is to be reminded of the genuine melodic and harmonic alchemy that songwriter Benny Andersson brought to the group's music. To be accurate, this album isn't just an ABBA tribute, as von Otter also sings several numbers from Andersson's post-ABBA career, including tunes from his musicals Chess and Kristina. Andersson himself appears as pianist on a few tracks -- including the gorgeous "After the Rain" -- but other arrangements range from the smoky jazz of "Ljusa kvällar om varen" (one of two songs performed in Swedish) to the appealingly sharp-edged cabaret style of "I Am Just a Girl" and the bonus track "Money, Money, Money," where von Otter is clearly having fun interpreting the song's cynical bite. It's a genuine compliment, in these circumstances, to say that you wouldn't guess she's an opera singer -- she's tried her hand at crossover before, duetting with Elvis Costello on 2001's For the Stars, but the warmth and intimacy she brings to this project is closer in tone to her much-admired Home for Christmas album. It's not just a matter of Swedish patriotism: von Otter believes in this music, and her enjoyment is contagious.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - William Ruhlmann
Although the breakup of ABBA in the early '80s did not, in fact, mean the dissolution of the songwriting team of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus that had come up with all of the group's songs and made up half of its personnel, people tend to think of it that way, an impression only reinforced by the worldwide success of the stage musical Mamma Mia! that employs ABBA songs, since Andersson and Ulvaeus insisted as a condition of their involvement that the songs by performed in their ABBA arrangements. There have been relatively few attempts to record the songs differently -- Erasure's 1992 EP Abba-esque was one, but, more typically, the A*Teens tried to copy the original arrangements on their album The ABBA Generation in 2000. And there have been no attempts to consider Andersson and Ulvaeus as songwriters beyond ABBA, despite their continuing partnership, which has produced two original stage musicals and other songs, before and after ABBA. Opera singer Anne Sofie Von Otter changes all this with her collection of Andersson/Ulvaeus songs, I Let the Music Speak, which includes only six ABBA songs among its 12 selections (and one of them was not actually written for ABBA, though the group recorded it). She adds in songs from the musicals Chess and Kristina Från Duvemåla, as well as other songs by the duo up to 2001. (One song, "After the Rain," was written by Andersson with Johan Nörklit, without Ulvaeus' involvement.) The arrangements were written by Flesh Quartet, Anders Eljas, George Wadenius, and, in the case of "I Walk with You, Mama" (a lyric written by Ulvaeus set to Andersson's instrumental composition "Stockholm at Night," written for a late-'80s film), Andersson himself with bassist Svante Henryson. Andersson on piano joins Henryson for the track's instrumental accompaniment. They give the song a classical, art-song feel, which is consistent with the other arrangements. For the ABBA songs, Von Otter has mostly chosen late-period ballads like "When All Is Said and Done" and "The Winner Takes It All," as well as the last-ever ABBA song, "The Day Before You Came," and this is material that works well in a completely different context. Nor are the arrangements the same as each other, by any means. "I Let the Music Speak," with its accordion, sounds like a sad, mid-20th century European lament. "When All Is Said and Done" comes off as a country-ish folk-rock song. "I Am Just a Girl" (the ABBA song actually written before the group's formation for another artist) employs a banjo and a tuba in emulation of '20s jazz. Von Otter brings a warm sincerity (and, thankfully, no Swedish accent) to her singing of the English lyrics, while also handling the Swedish in the two songs from Kristina Från Duvemåla well. It is a crucial element in the continuing reputations of musical artists that their songs can be performed in different ways by musicians coming later. Von Otter does Andersson and Ulvaeus a great service in demonstrating the value of their songs as songs here, not just as vehicles for the elaborate ABBA studio recordings. And listening to such excellent compositions as "I Walk with You, Mama" and "Butterfly Wings," ABBA fans may appreciate that Andersson and Ulvaeus didn't disappear after 1982. (Although the album packaging lists only 11 songs, there is a hidden track at the end, ABBA's "Money, Money, Money.")
Gramophone - Mike Ashman
The results are serious, earnest, reflecting well on Andersson's songs.

Product Details

Release Date:
10/10/2006
Label:
Deutsche Grammophon
UPC:
0028947759010
catalogNumber:
000719502
Rank:
194627

Related Subjects

Tracks

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Anne Sofie von Otter   Primary Artist,Vocals
Lasse Englund   Dobro
Benny Andersson   Piano
Anders Eljas   Piano
Svante Henryson   Acoustic Bass
Magnus Persson   Percussion,Drums
Anna Wallgren   Cello
Georg "Jojje" Wadenius   Guitar,Keyboards,Electric Piano,scat
Jörgen Stenberg   Percussion,Marimbas,Vibes
Fleshquartet   Percussion,Strings
Pär Grebacken   Clarinet
Kalle Moraeus   Banjo,Violin
Magnus Lindgren   Flute,Bass Clarinet,Soprano Saxophone
Fredrik Jonsson   Electric Bass,Acoustic Bass
Karl Jakobsson   Tuba
David Björkman   Violin
Roland Kress   Violin
Jakob Ruthberg   Viola
Mikael Augustsson   Accordion

Technical Credits

Benny Andersson   Composer
Björn Ulvaeus   Lyricist
Stig Anderson   Composer
Georg "Jojje" Wadenius   Producer,drum programming
Thomas Klementsson   Cover Photo
Mats Nörklit   Lyricist
Marion Thiem   Executive Producer
Margrethe Alexandroni   Liner Note Translation

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