New Favourites

Åke MALMFORS (1918-1951)
Månsken (1943) (2:19)
Ingvar LIDHOLM (b. 1921)
Fyra körer (1953) [11:53]
Sven-Erik BÄCK (1919-1994)
Som hjorten törstar (1973) [1:51]
Sven-David SANDSTRÖM (b. 1942)
Hear my Prayer, O Lord (1986) [5:04]
Bitta BYSTRÖM (b. 1977)
Lux aeterna (2001) [6:26]
Four Songs of Love (2008) [10:09]
Karin REHNQVIST (b. 1957)
Till Ängeln med de brinnande händerna (2000) [8:58]
Lars-Erik LARSSON (1908-1986)
Ingen fågel flyger för högt (1969) [1:52]
Jan SANDSTRÖM (b. 1954)
Det är en ros utsprungen (1999) [3:51]
Lars Johan WERLE (1926-2001)
Orpheus (1990) [2:51]
Nils LINDBERG (b. 1933)
Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day (1989) [5:50]
Håkan PARKMAN (1955-1997)
Titania (1996) [1:36]
Susanne ROSENBERG (b. 1957)
Pust (2000) [5:25]
Biegga luohte (2002) [5:23]
I himmelen (1998) [3:09]
Swedish Chamber Choir/Simon Phipps
rec. 13-15 May, 18-19 June 2011, Årstad Church, Sweden
texts and translations provided
Simon Phipps is from London. He moved to Sweden in 1993, where he founded the Simon Phipps Vocal Ensemble in 1996. The group’s name was changed to the Swedish Chamber Choir in 2007. He writes in the booklet that this programme is “a personal choice of the modern [Swedish] pieces that the Swedish Chamber Choir has most enjoyed singing, and to which audiences have responded most enthusiastically”.
The programme opens with a lovely, short evocation of moonlight by Åke Malmfors, the first of several names new to me in this collection. Lidholm’s Four Choruses are quite a different matter. Like much translated poetry, it is not always easy to see what the texts are driving at, and with music that is far more modernist in language it is difficult to escape a certain dryness in the first three pieces. The fourth, however, evokes a powerful nocturnal atmosphere and boasts in Anna Jobrant the kind of soprano soloist that every choral conductor dreams of. Sven-Erik Bäck’s piece is a simple, tranquil setting of the same text used by Howells in his celebrated anthem Like as the Hart. It provides the perfect opportunity to relish the purity of the voices that make up this remarkable choir. Sven-David Sandström’s Hear my Prayer, O Lord is quite well known, but for those yet to encounter it, it begins with Purcell’s unfinished anthem of the same title, unchanged until almost the end, when Sandström’s own compositional voice takes over. There is a wrench at this point, of course, but it is a measure of the daring and skill of the composer that the result is a coherent and moving work of art.
In Lux aeterna by Bitta Byström the word “lux” is intoned with slides and clusters, constantly moving with new shapes and combinations of sound, yet producing music so calm as to be almost static. Four Songs of Love, in Jan-David Sandström’s recent, less modernistic style, is a high spot of the disc. Four short texts, in English, from the Song of Songs, are set to music that can only be described as ravishing. The harmonies are largely tonal but rarely go where you expect them to. The word setting is remarkably skilful: listen, for example, in the third piece, for the extraordinarily subtle way the composer underlines the ambiguity and importance of the word “pleasant” in the phrase “Let my beloved come into his garden and eat his pleasant fruits”. A short masterpiece, I’d say.
Any reader who has purchased the superb disc of music by Karin Rehnqvist issued recently on the Bis label will probably not be surprised at the quality of the two works by her in this collection. The first of her two pieces demonstrates the choir’s mastery of microtonal harmony, as well as the stratospheric properties of soprano soloist Karin Ståhl, in music, alternately strikingly dramatic and calmly pensive, aptly reflecting the “Angel with the Fiery Hands” evoked by the text. A solo oboe, played by Geoffrey Cox, adds to the effect. If only William Blake’s text could be sung in English Lars-Erik Larsson’s short piece, featuring a modern incarnation of almost Bachian counterpoint, would make a perfect encore for any accomplished British choir. Jan Sandström’s new look at Praetorius’ Es ist ein Ros entsprungen is a real treat. Sandström takes the original, so beloved of choirs at Christmas, and encloses it within wordless harmonies; it is rendered at once disembodied and clear, like a brilliant star in the clearest of night skies, timeless, calm and immutable. The remainder of the programme is just as satisfying, the final group of three works relating more closely, and strikingly, to folk tradition than the rest.
The recording is beautifully rich and lifelike. Texts in the original language, in English and in Japanese are provided, but quite a lot of juggling is required to follow them, made more difficult by the irritating decision to glue the booklet to the front of the folding card case. This is certainly not a reason to allow this superb disc to pass you buy.
William Hedley 

A magnificent collection of modern Swedish choral music.