Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir under their Music Director, Grete Pedersen achieve the most wonderful results on their new disc for BIS of works by Nørgård, Lachenmann, Janson, Saariaho and Xenakis, taking choral singing to a new level

The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir http://solistkoret.no was established in 1950 by the Norwegian Soloists’ Society with the aim of becoming an elite ensemble for performing choral music to the highest possible standard. The choir’s first conductor was Knut Nystedt, who led the ensemble for forty years. Since 1990 the choir has sung under the leadership of the internationally acclaimed Grete Pedersen, undertaking a great number of concerts in Scandinavia, the USA and Asia as well as recordings.

The members of the Norwegian Soloists’ Choir are professionally trained, hand-picked singers, all of whom are potential soloists. The choir maintains a youthful profile, receptive to and willing to perform newly written works, while at the same time performing core classical works from the Nordic and international choral repertoire.

The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir have made a number of recordings for BIS Records http://bis.se of which their latest is entitled As Dreams featuring works by Per Nørgård, Helmut Lachenmann, Alfred Janson, Kaija Saariaho and Iannis Xenakis that reflect the idea of night and dreams. They are joined on this new release by the Oslo Sinfonietta.

SACD
BIS - 2139


Drømmesange (Dream Songs) (1981) for mixed choir and percussion ad lib by the Danish composer, Per Nørgård (b.1932) www.pernoergaard.dk has its origins in a song written for a radio play by Danish author Finn Methling who adapted the text from a Chinese original. It described a boy’s dream about his future self. This new work presents the same dream in three ways.  

A solo soprano sings over a beautifully blended wordless choral layer in the evocative Utopia. Nørgård brings some lovely touches, beautiful harmonies and attractive little details. A drum joins to add a rhythm behind the choir, bringing a rather timeless feel. The music picks up a greater rhythm in Ambiguous, driving forward until a drum alone continues, slowly falling. The music picks up as the choir re-joins with changes in the rhythm as the drum leads to Nightmare, gaining in intensity as the choir bring some pretty earthy, rhythmic moments until rising to a violent tam-tam stroke. The opening slow and atmospheric choral idea returns with hushed tam-tam colouring the music. Bells sound before the choir leads quietly and gently forward, rising through some terrific bars, with a variety of percussion to the coda.

Helmut Lachenmann (b.1935) www.breitkopf.com/composer/561 was born in Stuttgart and was the first private student of Luigi Nono (1924-1990). His Consolation II (Wessobrunner Gebet) (Wessobrunner Prayer) (1968) for 16 voices (mixed choir) is based on fragments of language taken from the oldest existing Christian text in German.

The choir bring some unusual vocal sounds as the music opens, chirps, hisses, screeches and shouts, yet combining to make an atmospheric whole, rising and falling as the text is sung and declaimed through a variety of passages. This remarkable work shows just how fine and flexible this choir is. They travel through a very hushed section where one can just perceive the vocal sounds bringing a rather ghostly atmosphere. Often the choir is used orchestrally with individual singers weaving their sounds. They rise through a section with shrill whistles and exclamations before arriving at another hushed section with the most amazing, strange vocal utterances.  

The Norwegian pianist and composer, Alfred Janson (b.1937) www.mic.no/mic.nsf/doc/art2002101118511948764476 sets a text from Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844-1900) Also sprach Zarathustra for his Nocturne (1967) for double choir, 2 cellos, harp and 2 percussionists.

The female voices of the Norwegian Soloists' Choir slowly and gently enter with quite lovely harmonies to which the two cellos soon add subtle and wiry textures, combining the string textures with the choir and harp, with percussion colouring the texture. They rise through some quite ethereal moments, through which the text eventually runs, before building in strength, drums adding to the drama. Very soon the music quietens. There are cymbal strokes as the music finds a lovely ebb and flow, beautifully coloured by percussion with the choir providing the most lovely textures and harmonies. The music builds to a pitch with a series of vocal and percussion outbursts before the cellos and harp appear through the vocal texture as we are taken to a hushed coda.

This is a quite wonderful work.

The Finnish composer, Kaija Saariaho (b.1952) http://saariaho.org takes a text by Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) to contrast light and dark as a trance like interplay between past and present in Überzeugung (Conviction) (2001) for three female voices, crotale, violin and cello. In this brief work the violin brings chords over a pizzicato cello before the three female voices enter combining with the violin to produce some lovely, melancholy ideas before gently finding the coda.  

Per Nørgård’s Singe die Gärten, mein Herz, die du nicht kennst (Sing, my heart, of the gardens you do not know) (1974) for eight part choir and eight instruments, is an independent part of his Symphony No.3 (1972-75) and sets Sonnet 21 from the second part of Rainer Maria Rilke’s (1875-1926) Sonnets to Orpheus.

The instruments sound out as the choir brings the text, rising through some especially fine passages before continuing the little vocal declamations within the expanding choral line. There are some lovely harmonic shifts as well as so many lovely instrumental details, with this choir rising through some terrific passages. They provide a gentle pulse as the music rises and falls with the instrumentalists and choir finding some very fine harmonies, achieving the most wonderfully subtle effects. Later a solo female voice rises out of the texture before the music moves through the most lovely instrumental textures, with the choir, to a spectacularly fine coda.

This is a strikingly beautiful setting.

Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) www.boosey.com/composer/Iannis+Xenakis fled his native Greece and became a naturalised French citizen. His Nuits (Nights) (1967-68) for 12 mixed voices or mixed choir was dedicated to political prisoners and creates a landscape of strange sounds from lost languages such as Assyrian and Sumerian.

Female voices sound out violently, soon joined by the male voices, alternating before they weave their sounds. The choir create a rising and falling texture of stunning brilliance with declamatory passages. This choir responds to this exacting music with terrific skill, soaring through some wonderful passages. There are some exceptional vocal effects as they move through passages of stunning vocal agility and fine textures before arriving at a hushed coda on rich vocal textures, with a final declamation.

This is an often exacting, but spectacularly original work sung to perfection by this outstanding choir.

Kaija Saariaho’s Nuits, adieux (1991/96) for mixed choir and four soloists consists of two series of passages, ‘nights’ and ‘farewells’ drawing on novels by Jacques Roubaud (b.1932) and Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850).

The choir opens gently, soon overlaid by a female soloist. There are vocal murmurings as the music progresses, creating a terrific atmosphere. A solo female voice speaks the text, though verging on sprechgesang. The voices gently weave a rising and falling choral line with detailed little vocal sounds, almost gentle sighs in this quite wonderful evocation of night. The music rises through a passage of greater intensity before a tenor solo takes the text over choral background. Breathing sounds grow increasingly intense before gasps, vocal whoops and screams bring a dramatic sequence, perhaps the terrifying aspect of night. A bass takes the text slowly forward over a languid choral backdrop where there are some especially fine harmonies before finding a gentle hushed coda.

There is much beauty here, often clothed in the most adventurous harmonies and vocal ideas. The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir under their Music Director, Grete Pedersen achieve the most wonderful results, taking choral singing to a new level. 

They receive a tip top recording from the Ris Kirke, Norway. There are excellent booklet notes by Erling Sandmo from which I have been grateful to quote as well as full texts and English translations. 

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