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Sigurd ISLANDSMOEN (1881-1964)
Requiem (1935-36)
Hilde Haraldsen Sveen (soprano); Marianne Beate Kielland (alto); Ulf Řien (tenor); Trond Halstein Moe (bass)
Det Norske Solistkoor
Kristiansand Symfoniorkester/Terje Boye Hansen
rec. March 2006, Kristiansand Cathedral
2L 36 [51:05]

Sigurd Islandsmoen’s Requiem for soloists, choir and orchestra is one of a number of works for choir, which includes a number of oratorios, and his final large scale work, the Missa Solemnis. His idiom owes something to a musical education which included instruction from Max Reger, and an introduction to the chromatic high romanticism which was prevalent in Germany at the turn of the century. This is tempered somewhat by Islandsmoen’s naturally Norwegian sensitivities, and his Requiem is in fact a very direct and approachable work. National and folk characteristics were an important element in Islandsmoen’s work, and this also influenced his approach to the Requiem. There are certainly a number of quotes illustrated in the booklet which indicate the composer’s sources, but the work remains sophisticated sounding for all its apparent thematic simplicity.   
Throughout the 1940s the work enjoyed huge success both in Norway and abroad, its sentiments providing a moving vehicle for reflection and hope during the war years.  The music disappeared through the 1950s, having fallen out of fashion and becoming buried under a trend for modernism. The Requiem has a grand and stirring effect, while not giving us much in the way of convention-stretching harmonies. The orchestration is also typically conventional, with harp adding sparkle to the orchestral timbre, timpani for emphasis, cymbal crashes to point out dynamic high points, and a tam-tam or gong for a bit of exotic flavour here and there. Pushed to point out a highlight, I would go for the charm of the solo lines in the Oro supplex, which is followed by a gorgeous, slow-moving Lacrymosa with a Nielsenesque major-minor opening and some strangely searching moments. The strength of the piece is largely in its melodic expressiveness, which carries the texts in ways which sometimes almost touch on the French approach embodied by composers such as Fauré. Take the Pie Jesu, which has quite a lilting 6/8 rhythm, but reaches into quite gritty realms as well, again recalling Nielsen and others.  
Despite the cathedral setting, the acoustic for this recording is warm and non-swimmy. The sound is very good, but not quite as spectacular as one might immediately expect from such a production, especially given 2L’s promotional text for the SACD set-up. We are told that, as listener, we now occupy the position of the conductor, and indeed the surround effect is one which grows on you, rather than hitting you over the head with all tooters and bells – I suspect this is as much an effect of the nature of the music as that of the recording. Only the cymbal crashes strike me as being a trifle too prominent for the overall balance, but this is a minor quibble. The chorus has a nice, rounded sound, and while the orchestral strings can be a touch ragged when exposed the winds and brass are nicely intonated, and all of the solos come off well. The solo vocalists also do a very good job indeed, and give a welcome sense of unity: while no-one in particular stands out there are no weak voices either. If I should mention anyone it is Hilde Haraldsen Sveen, whose sweet soprano is the topping to a very toothsome cake indeed.
This is most certainly a piece which deserves its place in the catalogue. Listeners seeking a combination of romantic melodic eloquence, with any Germanic heaviness alleviated by that Nordic sense of openness and fresh air will find much to enjoy here. This is a revival which I hope will set a trend for neglected masterpieces elsewhere.
Dominy Clements

see also review by Rob Barnett


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