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Jan SandStrÖm (b. 1954)
Från Mörker till Ljus (From Darkness to Light) for reader, baritone and chamber orchestra (1991)
1. Begynnelsen var Mörkret (In the Beginning was Darkness) [10:24]
2. I en Verkstad i Flandern (In a workshop in Flanders) [1:43]
3. Den Sista Arbetsdagen (The last day of work) [1:09]
4. Mellantiden (The Time Between) [1:52]v
5. En Vägg av Sol (A Wall of Sunlight) [1:57]
6. Ur Jesse Rot (From Jesse’s Root) (orch.) [2:27]
7. De Fromma Djuren (The Animals’ Devotion) [0:53]
8. Ur Jesse Rot (From Jesse’s Root) [3:02]
9. Lidandets Ansikte (The Face of Suffering) [1:52]
10. Klarheten (Clarity) [1:23]
11. Kommendanten (The Commandant) [1:53]
12. Den Sörjande Modern (The Grieving Mother) [6:39]
13. Korset är Inte Slutpunkten (The Cross is not the End) [1:55]
14. I Denna Mörka Tid (In this Dark Time) [8:11]
Peter Mattei (baritone); Sven Wollter (reader)
Norrbotten Chamber Orchestra/Petter Sundkvist
rec. January 2002, Aula Aurora, Luleå, Sweden
Texts and translations included
SWEDISH SOCIETY SCD1136 [45:21]



This recording is a production completely from the Gulf of Bothnia area. Both the composer and the author of the text teach at the University of Luleå. The soloist was born in the area of Gammelstad, near the church that was the poet’s inspiration. The instrumentalists form the native ensemble for the same area.
 
Jan Sandström is well-known for his first trombone concerto (The Motorbike Concerto) and many other orchestral pieces. In this somewhat atypical creation he has taken a series of poems by the Swedish poet Folke Isaksson and created a work in which the verses are alternately recited or sung, usually but not always accompanied by chamber orchestra.
 
Isaksson’s poems deal with the beginning of the Book of Genesis, the progress of Gamelstad church’s altarpiece from Antwerp to its final home, the Passion, instances of modern injustice and finally a more hopeful world situation. The music is in a different style in each section, but hangs together well and will not insult any listener who appreciates Corigliano or Gorecki. Track 1 with its Stravinskian use of winds is inspired, especially as the baritone elaborates on the basic material of the piece. Tracks 2 and 3 are readings of poems describing the journey of the altar piece. It should be pointed out that throughout the piece Sven Wollter does not “orate” or “declaim”. He just reads the poems as if to himself. Nothing could be more sincere. Mellandtiden is an aria unaccompanied for the baritone: a true tour de force. This surprises the listener by being more folk-like than the opening material. The sixth through eighth tracks form a single section describing the carvings of the altarpiece and how they might have appeared to the children of Gammelstad when first seen. Here the baritone’s music is in an almost popular style, but without any trace of kitsch. The reading Lidanets Ansikte reminds us that the main focus of the altarpiece is the Passion and here an element of modernity enters the text, which increases as the work continues.
 
The orchestra plays by itself for the first time in the tenth track, Klarheten (Clarity). This is the clarity Jesus would have perceived after death and by extension the clarity all would perceive in a world without evil. This is a very difficult concept to portray in music without writing à la Massenet, but the composer does well with just a slight shifting of chords in the strings. After a reading dealing with the banality of evil the baritone sings of the grief of Mary after the Crucifixion. Naturally this section is a little more dissonant than the music that has appeared up to now, but it is also an effective synthesis of the styles that have preceded it. The last reading and last musical section are linked. Here the music slows appreciably and one is left with some feeling of hope in spite of the brutality of tracks twelve and thirteen. This feeling increases as the composer presents the original material in yet another way, this time leading to a luminous finish.
 
Peter Mattei was the soloist at the world premiere of this work in 1991 and his account can be considered authoritative. There are a few moments when his voice is not up to some of the lower notes, but basically he gives a fine and sometimes inspired performance. As said above Sven Wollter uses no dramatics. It is as if he is reading you the poems in your own home. Petter Sundquist provides capable accompaniment and elicits alternating mystical and terrifying sounds from the orchestra. The recording quality is good for the soloist and reader but could have been a little more life-like for the players. To conclude, this is a major work that will appeal to a large audience. Although obviously not a "Christmas” work its message is a good one for the holidays.
 
William Kreindler
 



 


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