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Ståle KLEIBERG (b. 1958)
Mass for Modern Man (2015) [67:59]
Mari Eriksmoen (soprano)
Johannes Weiser (baritone)
Trondheim Symphony Orchestra and Choir/Eivind Gullberg Jensen
rec. August 2016, Olavshallen, Trondheim, Norway
2L 2L-136-SABD [67:59]

Norwegian composer Ståle Kleiberg has become a significant figure in contemporary music since embarking on his career in 1981, with sizeable commissions, recordings such as the Requiem, Symphonies, and on the 2L label Concertos and Chamber Works. With two Grammy nominations under his belt, this Mass for Modern Man will surely generate a deal of excitement in cultured circles.

The 2L website quotes from Kleiberg's booklet notes that Ståle Kleiberg's Mass for Modern Man "is about the loss of existential meaning as an antithesis to faith and belief. The work commutes between these two extremes, and raises the following underlying question: Is belief possible for modern man? In this work, the answer is ‘yes’; not a resounding ‘yes’, but a ‘yes’ in spite of all." The text, printed in English or Latin and Norwegian in the booklet, is by Jessica Gordon, with whom Kleiberg has often worked in the past. This is a confluence between liturgical texts of the Mass and an extension of their message, the ancient words "influenced by the atmosphere and themes explored in the movements sung by the soloists." This was Kleiberg's solution to a work that had to be relevant to "our modern condition" as well as being part of a universal human context for all times: "When a movement about the loss of a child is followed by a Credo, it cannot be a clear and unambiguous Credo, but a hesitant one."

This resonates with a modern tradition that includes works such as Tippett's A Child of Our Time or Britten's War Requiem, and to a certain extent something like Penderecki's Polish Requiem though of course with different dramatic emphases in each, and musically with a greater affinity with the British spirit than the Eastern European. The non-liturgical texts in this Mass for Modern Man carry a Biblical weight that suits Kleiberg's neo-romantic idiom very well indeed. Kleiberg's music is approachably tonal and exquisitely crafted, with particularly effective choral writing - the orchestra adding power to the vocal lines rather than acting as an independent force.

Emotionally involving in every case, some of the themes expressed here are guaranteed tear-jerkers. The soprano and baritone become the parents in the movement entitled Loss of a Child, the narrative of nurture and the aftermath of tragedy something with which we can all empathise. Kleiberg's softer edge sometimes seems to contradict the content of the text. While there is always a suitable pay-off, you might perhaps expect a little more to be going on under words such as: "My thoughts run wild at nightfall, /like dogs that snarl and prowl about the city. /My words are clawed; they will do damage." The emphasis is often on lyrical expression weighted with suggestive atmosphere than in direct programmatic response to the words, and the results are moments of beauty rather than of conflict.

There are plenty of stunning harmonic progressions and moments of ecstasy throughout this work, and the Sanctus is a good case in point. This is music that goes straight to the heart, without pretension or overt sentimentality, though these are of course subjective responses - I'm sure there are those that will find this rather on the sweet side, while on the other it might even prove a bit too meaty for fans of John Rutter. To my mind it's best to drop preconceptions and just enjoy such a musical feast for what it is.

As ever, 2L’s recording is excellent. The booklet illustrates the microphone set-up and position of the musicians, and the realism is quite uncanny. The Olavshallen venue is warm rather than acoustically resonant, but with this there is no blurring of harmonies. I’ve listened in standard stereo and enjoyed every moment, but the difference in SACD surround makes all the difference in this case. The microphone array is set centrally with the musicians in a tight horseshoe around it, so surround-sound effect is really the intended final result. There are both stereo/SACD hybrid and Blu-ray discs in this package. Alas, my current system lacks Blu-ray but this is the sort of recording that would encourage me to explore such an option.

People talk of ‘musician’s musicians’ and ‘composer’s composers’, but I would consider Ståle Kleiberg a ‘listener’s composer.’ His ear for juicy orchestration, tight melodic direction and harmonic flow are superbly crafted and at times inspired, and if you are looking for works that will endure in years to come both for their musical content and depth of message this is one such place.

Dominy Clements



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