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Rosa Mystica - Choral Music for the Soul
Maria Magdalena Kammarkör/Mats Nilsson
rec. January/February 2015, Hölö parish church, Sweden. DDD
Texts & English translations included
FOOTPRINT RECORDS FRCD087 [61:12]

The booklet that comes with this CD contains all the texts and translations, clearly laid out. It also offers full information about the choir and its conductor. Sadly, there’s not a single word about the music and that’s very unfortunate, especially since several of the pieces and composers may be as new to other listeners as they were to me. That, however, is the last word of criticism you’re going to read in this review.

The Maria Magdalena Kammarkör is connected to the Stockholm church dedicated to Maria Magdalena. There they sing the services regularly in addition to their concert appearances. Mats Nilsson has been their conductor since 2009. The choir comprises 36 singers (10/9/8/9). I’ve encountered on disc quite a number of similarly sized choirs from Northern Europe and the standard of singing has been unfailingly high. So it is with this choir, too. The sound they make is consistently pleasing. The blend and balance are excellent, the tuning is flawless and the sound is fresh and bright. I thoroughly enjoyed – and admired - all the performances.

The programme is a mixture of sacred and secular a cappella music and, as you might infer from the title of the disc, the nature of the music is predominantly restful. The majority of the works were composed from the nineteenth century onwards but the performance of Purcell’s Remember not, Lord, our offences shows that this fine choir is just as adept in performing music from an earlier age.

A few of the pieces were well known to me. Stanford’s serene motet, Beati quorum via receives a beautifully calibrated performance, every line expertly weighted against the others. There’s a super blend in Eric Whitacre’s Lux aurumque while the choir is very succesful in conveying the increasing richness of the harmonic textures in Tavener’s Hymn for the Dormition of the Mother of God. The third and final iteration of the music in Tavener’s piece is especally satisfying; from the top to the bottom of the choir the harmonies are brilliantly balanced. The album takes its title from the Britten piece. This is a movement from A. M. D. G., which consists of seven settings of poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Though written in 1939 the work was suppressed by Britten and only achieved a premiere in 1984 and publication five years later. Perhaps that explains why it’s not better known, Rosa Mystica is the second movement of the complete work. It’s very skilfully written and this Swedish choir gives a most accomplished account of it.

Most of the remainder of the programe was new to me. I liked the mellifluous Hymne ā Saint Martin by the Lithuanian composer, Vaclovas Augustinas. This work, sung in Latin, opens the programme and in two respects sets the tone for much of what is to follow. Firstly, the music falls pleasingly on the ear and, secondly, the beautifully blended, very natural sound of the choir gives great pleasure. Gösta Nystroem’s Huru skön och huru ljuv (How beautiful you are) takes words from the Song of Songs and clothes them in harmonic language which is perhaps the most exploratory in the programme.

I’ve previously heard and enjoyed orchestral music by Lars-Erik Larsson but had not heard any of his vocal music. The Agnus Dei from his Missa Brevis (1954), though short, made me want to hear the complete work.

Among the secular offerings I admired the setting of Shakespeare’s Come Away, Death by the Finnish composer, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi. I understand this is the second of his Four Shakespere Songs (1984) though this information is not included in the documentation. Natt över jorden (Night on our earth now has fallen) is by the Swedish composer, Karin Rehnqvist. I’ve established that this is the first of her two Songs from the Earth (1992/2008). It’s an effective mood piece and it’s very well done here.

Towards the end of the programme the choir sings two arrangements by their conductor of traditional songs. Kvällen stundar (Evening draws near) is a tranquil and beautiful evening song while Värmlandsvisan, which I think translates roughly as ’O lovely Värmland’, is most attractive. Both arrangements are excellent. The final piece, Vaggvisa (Lullaby) is by the Swedish composer, Lars Edlund. The melody is disarmnig and it’s most sensitively harmonised.

This very fine choir has been most sympathetically recorded. The church where the sessions were held seems to have a lovely acoustic and the engineers have used it skilfully to place just the right aura around the sound made by the singers. From first to last the singing is extremely fine and the music itself is lovely. I enjoyed this CD very much.

John Quinn

Contents
Vaclovas AUGUSTINAS (b. 1957)
Hymne ā Saint Martin [4:37]
Sven-David SANDSTRÖM (b. 1942)
Kom till mig [2:57]
Gösta NYSTROEUM (1890-1966)
Huru skön och huru ljuv [4:03]
Lars-Erik LARSSON (1908-1986)
Agnus Dei (from Missa brevis) [2:40]
Ola GJEILO (b. 1978)
Ubi caritas [3:14]
Josef Gabriel RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Kyrie (from Cantus missae) [3:59]
Thomas JENNEFELT (b. 1954)
Bön [3:52]
Sir Charles Villiers STANFORD (1852-1924)
Beati quorum via [3:35]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Rosa Mystica (from A.M.D.G.)
[4:13]
Eric WHITACRE (b. 1970)
Lux aurumque [3:27
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Remember not, Lord, our offences [3:10]
Sir John TAVENER (1944-2013)
Hymn for the Dormition of the Mother of God [3:44]
Jaakko MÄNTYJÄRVI (b. 1963)
Come Away, Death [2:42]
Hugo ALFVÉN (1872-1960)
Aftonen [3:47]
Karin REHNQVIST (b. 1957)
Natt över jorden [4:06]
Mats NILSSON (b. 1958)
(arr.) Kvällen stundar [2:33]
(arr) Värmlandsvisan [2:22]
Lars EDLUND (1922-2013)
Vaggvisa [2:09]

 

 




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