Himmelkvad - Nordic Voices
2L 2L-075-SABD (2 discs)
Classical - Vocal
Lasse Thoresen: Vocal Sextet Op. 42, Himmelkvad Op. 19
Berit Opheim Versto
The Nordic Council Music Prize 2010 was awarded to the Norwegian composer Lasse Thoresen. His "Opus 42" represents a true renewal of Nordic vocal music. This strikingly beautiful piece reveals the common denominators in ancient and ultra-modern sounds, drawing our attention to the similarities between Scandinavian folk traditions and the music we might find in, say, the Middle East or India. Lasse Thoresen not only uses folk sounds to spice up art music, he also integrates its finely tuned microtonality, spectral overtones, harmonies and rhythms into the contemporary, modernist project in a truly pioneering manner. A project like this depends upon close collaboration with skilled musicians who are willing to take risks. Thoresen found them in the vocal ensemble Nordic Voices and folk singer Berit Opheim Versto.
Artistic creativity, versatility and technical precision are the main elements that make up NORDIC VOICES. The six-voice a cappella group was formed in 1996 and comprises graduates from the Norwegian Academy of Music and the Norwegian Academy of Opera, who, in addition to their singing backgrounds, have a broad range of experience from choral conducting to teacher training and composition. It is perhaps this range of interests that leads them to explore a wider than usual spectrum of musical expression, from plainchant to new works commissioned from leading Norwegian composers; from the most sacred of religious texts to the definitely profane. Nordic Voices are an unusual blend of sophisticated music-making and stylish performance, more often than not with more than a dash of humour.
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Review by John Broggio - March 6, 2012
A marvellous disc of Norwegian folk-inspired music performed with extraordinary virtuosity by Nordic Voices under Berit Opheim Versto.
The vocal sextet (Op. 42) is a collection of four pieces "Solbon", "Likferdssaelmin", "Himmelske Fader" & "Tvetrall". In a detailed note, Lasse Thorsen sets out the background to each work but in brief Solbon (Sun prayer) takes a 5-note melody to construct a 10-minute work that symbolises the light by "the overtones that reside in every singer's voice emerge into the daylight, one by one, and in radiant bunches"; Likferdssaelmin (Funeral hymn) is quite brilliant in its expressive range (from whispers to full throated singing) and as noted the jolly melody seems determined to undermine the more doleful text; Himmelske Fader (Heavenly Father) opens like Solbon, with mysterious sounds from the lower voices and is written as a vehicle for Ragnar Vigdal to emote a stylised Eastern prayer; Tvetrall (Dual tune) is a sophisticated "battle" between men and women who sing the tunes at different pitches and tempi!
After Likferdssaelmin, the first three parts of Helligkvad (Op. 19) are sung by Berit Opheim Versto (the works dedicatee). All are folk-inspired with a great deal of micro-tonality but absolutely captivating. As the note from Thoresen makes clear "Berit's performance was spellbinding: the hall of 1500 people was filled to the brim with a silence that is almost tangible" and even on disc, the same holds true here. We are returned to Op.42's Himmelske Fader, Helligkvad is then completed before Tvetrall concludes the disc.
Throughout the singing of all concerned is incredible - involving and incredibly wide-ranging for different timbres, sounds and types of pitch employed. The music sounds tremendously difficult yet Nordic Voices carry it off with apparent ease and appropriate devotional feeling to the score.
The 2L sound is, as usual, incredibly precise - defining each location with clarity but resolving every last nuance that is uttered from the performers lips. Arguably it could have been better served with a bit more space between the artists and listener but this is not a criticism merely a personal preference.
Copyright © 2012 John Broggio and HRAudio.net
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