Bo HANSSON (b. 1950)
Endless Border
Som när handen (As when day dawns) (1993) [5:06]
Salve Regina (2005) [6:51]
Then I heard the singing (2010) [9:04]
For as the rain* (2009) [5:08]
The place amongst the trees (2000, rev. 2010) [8:00]
Missa brevis* (2008) [19:38]
Lighten mine eyes (2007) [5:42]
Endless border (2007) [8:06]
The Choir of Royal Holloway/Rupert Gough
*William Baldry (organ)
rec. Douai Abbey, Upper Woolhampton, Berkshire, UK, 6-8 January 2011. DDD
Original texts and English translations included
HYPERION CDA67881 [67:41]
Hyperion have put us in their debt in the last few years through a series of CDs that have explored recent choral music from Scandinavia and the Baltic countries. Stephen Layton has recorded music by Ešenvalds (review), by a group of Baltic composers (review) and by Tormis (review). Rupert Gough has already given us discs of music by Miškinis (review) and Dubra and Hubert Culot nominated the latter as one of his 2010 Recordings of the Year. Now Gough and his Royal Holloway Choir turn their attention to the Swedish composer Bo Hansson.
Hansson has a varied background. Initially he was active in folk and jazz music and I believe he remains active as a guitarist. In the liner notes Rupert Gough tells us that Hansson became increasingly interested in composition in the mid-1980s and in due course he gravitated towards a contemporary classical style and began to write vocal music. The earliest piece on this disc, Som när handen is his first major choral piece. That’s one of three pieces on the programme that has been recorded previously – the others are Salve Regina and Lighten mine eyes – the remaining pieces on the programme appear on disc for the first time.
There is a good deal of attractive music here, which sounds to be well written for choir – and imaginatively written into the bargain. Som när handen, for example, contains some warm, inviting harmonies. Rupert Gough comments that Salve Regina has “a strong sense of plainchant modality” and, indeed, from 3:42 onwards the music is clearly based on the traditional plainchant melody. From this point onwards the music moves at a slower pace and I find it more effective. Prior to that the writing has featured quick, dancing rhythms and repetition of short musical phrases and, to be honest, didn’t do a great deal for me.
Then I heard the singing was commissioned by Gough and his choir and is a setting of words by the fourteenth century visionary, St. Bridget of Sweden. The music includes some beguiling harmonies and is beautifully sung. However, Gough comments that the composer takes an “unhurried approach” to the text. I couldn’t help feeling that a bit more concision in the writing would have been beneficial; as it is, I felt the piece slightly outstayed its welcome.
The place amongst the trees was originally a setting for eight-part choir of a Swedish text but here it’s presented in an English translation made especially for this recording. Again the music sounds well but I came to wonder, as it unfolded, if the piece was about anything more than an exploration of choral textures – not that there’s anything wrong with that per se. I have to confess that my attention wandered.
For as the rain and Missa Brevis rather go together since both were written for the same church music festival and in both cases Hansson took advantage of the forces at his disposal to write for choir and organ plus a separate female semi-chorus. For as the rain offers rather more astringent harmonies than some of the other pieces on the programme and it builds convincingly to a powerful and energetic close. The Missa Brevis is an interesting composition which often makes use of Hansson’s penchant for the repetition of small musical cells or fragments. The Gloria frequently alternates short sections of energetic staccato writing with passages in which the music consists of warm legato lines. The Sanctus achieves an expansive climax at Dominus Deus sabaoth and a little later, at Pleni sunt coeli, we hear one of the sections where the female semi-chorus is deployed to good effect. The dark Agnus Dei brings the work full circle by reprising music from the Kyrie.
The final piece in the programme, Endless border, is perhaps the most ambitious in that Hansson writes for ten-part choir and also uses a separate consort of six soloists. Some of the writing in this piece is the most attractively lyrical on the disc and Hansson shows himself to be adept in the use of varied, rich choral textures.
The composer was present at the recording sessions and I am sure he will have been delighted to find his music so splendidly served. Rupert Gough has clearly schooled his young singers very thoroughly in this unfamiliar music which they put across with conviction and assurance. The choral sound is consistently pleasing.
So I have no reservations whatsoever about the quality of the performances but I’m less sure about the music. I’ve heard and enjoyed all the Hyperion recordings that I mentioned at the start of this review but I’m afraid that Bo Hansson’s music, for all its evident skill and sincerity, did not always hold my attention in the way that the compositions of his peers have done. I’m unconvinced as to its substance, I suppose, and I can’t say that any of it has left a lasting impression on me. This, I readily acknowledge, is a subjective response which may well not be shared by others. Despite my reservations - and, indeed, because those reservations are subjective – I’d encourage collectors who have been engaged by some or all of the above-mentioned Hyperion releases in this genre to investigate this disc. One thing’s for sure: if you find you like Bo Hansson’s choral music I’d be surprised if you come across it in better performances than these.
John Quinn

Recent Swedish choral music in excellent performances.