Nordic Sounds 2

Jan SANDSTRÖM (b. 1954)
1. Sloabbme-njunnje (The curved muzzle) [2:50]
David WIKANDER (1884 - 1955)
2. Kung Liljekonvalje (King Lily of the Valley) [3:30]
3. Förvårskväll (An evening, early in spring) [4:49]
4. Biegga Njunnji (The wind nose) [3:21]
5. Biegga Luothe (Now the wind blows) [9:23]
Trad. arr. Gunnar ERICSON (b. 1936)
6. Gjendines Bådnlåt (Gjendine’s Cradlesong) [3:17]
Jørgen JERSILD (1913 - 2004)
7. Min yndlingsdal (My favourite valley) [3:50]
Jaakko MÄNTYJÄRVI (b. 1963)
Kosijat (The Suitors)
8. Intro [6:14]
9. Aurinko (The Sun) [4:01]
10. Kuu (The Moon) [5:26]
11. Pohjantähki (The North Star) [5:26]
Hugo ALFVÉN (1872 - 1960)
12. Och jungfrun hon går i ringen (A maiden is in the ring) [1:25]
13. Aftonen (Evening) [3:52]
Trad. arr. Arne LUNDMARK (b. 1955)
14. Kristallen den fina (Crystal so fine) [4:17]
Anders HILLBORG (b. 1954)
15. Muoayiyaoum [12:45]
Swedish Radio Choir/Peter Dijkstra
Per Björsund (percussion) (4), Johan Pejler (baritone and percussion) (5), Ulla Sjöblom (soprano) (6), Sofia Niklasson (soprano), Christiane Höjlund (alto), Tove Nilsson (alto), Love Enström (tenor), Conny Thimander (tenor), Andreas Olsson (baritone)(8-11)
rec. Musikaliska, Stockholm, June 2011
Sung texts with English translations enclosed.
For more than a century singing in choirs has been something of a national movement in the Nordic countries. In Sweden alone there are some 600,000 people regularly singing, many of them in more than one choir. This also means that a lot of choral music is being written in this region
The present disc is a sequel to Nordic Sounds which was issued last year and received the French award ‘Diapason d’Or’. That disc comprised an all-Sven-David Sandström programme. The present disc offers a mix of established favourites (Wikander and Alfvén) and more recent efforts, most of which need a professional choir.
The Swedish Radio Choir is truly professional. Founded in 1925 it rose to international standard under the aegis of Eric Ericson 1952-1983. It has retained its position as one of the world’s leading choirs under Anders Öhrwall, Gustaf Sjökvist, Tönu Kaljuste, Stefan Parkman and from 2007 Peter Dijkstra. Today the choir consists of 32 singers. Besides their own a cappella concerts they regularly appear with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. They are also sought after by conductors of the standing of Riccardo Muti, Claudio Abbado, Valery Gergiev and Daniel Harding.
The disc takes off as far north and as far back in time as it is possible to come: in Lapland and with music from the Sami culture, the joiks. Jan Sandström, of Motorbike Concerto fame, was born there and he has assimilated this music which for many centuries has been passed down from one generation to the next through oral tradition. Of late Johan Märak has written down the old melodies and also composed new ones in traditional style. It is on his work that Sandström has based his compositions. He is not the first to do so. Wilhelm Peterson-Berger used several joiks as building blocks for his third symphony Same Ätnam (1913 - 1915) - a work that still sounds uncommonly brave for its time and its composer. Also Sandström’s works give the impression of both ancient times and radical modernism, underlined by his use of percussion - an equivalent to the Sami troll-drums. The nine-minute Biegga Luothe (tr. 5) is deeply fascinating, raw, sometimes dissonant, aggressive and the next minute soft and reticent.
It is tempting to call this music the oldest surviving examples of genuine Nordic folk music. It is however far removed from traditional Nordic folk songs, which usually go no further back than the mid-19th century. David Wikander wrote Kung Liljekonvalje just after WW2 to a poem by Gustaf Fröding, one of the most popular poets around the turn of the last century. It is a classic in the choral repertoire in Sweden. For many singers and listeners it has ‘acquired the status of folk song’ as the liner notes put it. Nature and a special kind of Nordic melancholy are typical ingredients here. The same applies to the setting of Förvårskväll - a poem by Ragnar Jändel.
Gjendines Bådnlåt is a traditional Norwegian lullaby, here in an attractive arrangement for solo soprano and mixed choir by Gunnar Ericson. He has been one of the strongest profiles in the Scandinavian choral world through his long collaboration with the Gothenburg Chamber Choir. Nature again plays a central role in Danish composer Jørgen Jersild’s Min yndlingsdal, nostalgic and sad when in the last stanza the poet says ‘Goodbye, lovely dream of my childhood / The voice of a harsh fate cruelly calls! / I am carried away by the streams of time / and for you my arms reach in vain.’
There is a certain amount of folk music inspiration also in the most recent composition on this disc, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi’s 16-part suit Kosijat (The Suitors) from 2001. Most of all, though, it is the structure of the Finnish language that decides the irregularity of the music. It is based on a song from the Kanteletar, a collection of early Finnish poetry. Mäntyjärvi describes himself as an ‘eclectic traditionalist’, mixing influences from various sources. Himself a choral singer he knows the medium from the inside. As far as I can judge from just listening this is eminently singable music, spiced with some untraditional techniques, glissandi for instance. The excellent soloists are all members of the choir.
In a collection of Nordic choral music Hugo Alfvén can’t be passed over. For many years leader of both male choirs and mixed choirs he was a pioneer in adapting traditional folk songs for choirs in colourful, fun and grateful arrangements. Och jungfrun hon går i ringen is one of his very best settings and it is here complemented by an original composition,Aftonen. This is probably the masterpiece among his many choral pieces, a water-colour, say the liner notes - an apt description, since Alfvén was also a painter.
Kristallen den fina was one of the folksongs that Alfvén also set, but this time it is Arne Lundmark’s fine arrangement, which is a welcome alternative to Alfvén’s version.
Maybe the final work, Anders Hillborg’s Muoayiaoum, is the most original piece on the disc. It was composed in 1983 and belongs to Hillborg’s earliest pieces. The title has no translation since there is no hidden meaning. It’s only a sequence of vowels which open and close, thus creating a tonal landscape of amazing, shifting colours. What the music depicts is up to the individual listener’s imagination. I can hear - yes, even see - sun glittering on waves, I can hear birds, I can imagine a soft summer breeze caressing my cheek ... It is a fascinating composition.
I can’t imagine this music, or any other music for that matter, better sung by any choir in the world. With recording quality to match I can see no reason why this disc shouldn’t be awarded a ‘Diapason d’Or’ too. At MusicWeb International we have no tuning-forks - and definitely not golden - but we can always make it a Recording of the Month. Done!
Göran Forsling 

I can’t imagine this music, or any other music for that matter, better sung by any choir in the world.