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Song of the North
441 Hz Chamber Choir/Anna Wilczewska
rec. 2017, Resurrection of our Lord Church, Gdansk, Poland
Sung texts with Polish and English translations enclosed
DUX 1405 [50:06]

This is one of the most riveting choral discs I’ve ever come across! Based mainly on folk music and other traditional sources but dressed in modern outfit and with sometimes disrespectful accessories, the music is challenging, entertaining, often great fun and all the time inspirational. I am deeply impressed by the singers, who are required to produce the strangest sounds, negotiate complicated rhythmic patterns and also sing in various languages that are far from akin to their mother-tongue: Swedish, Finnish, Sami, Norwegian and some constructed non-semantic texts. I suppose Sven-David Sandstr÷m’s Four Songs of Love, although in ancient English, is the easiest to come to terms with.

Bengt OllÚn’s Trilo is a Swedish folk song, sung by the women waiting for their husbands to return from the sea. It is known that the women on the West Coast of Sweden didn’t start singing until they could see the fishermen’s boats on the horizon. The piece opens with dissonances and whispering sounds to give a vision of wind and waves. Then the melody proper is sung in a raw folk music style with great intensity, whereupon alternately lyrical and dramatic episodes follow. Highly atmospheric music.

Kaipaava is a Finnish folk song about longing. The text comes from Kanteletar, a collection of folk poems which is very well-known in Finland. A girl is waiting for her beloved and the music expresses her grief and longing. The melody is very beautiful and there are wide dynamic differences.

Sven-David Sandstr÷m taught for ten years in Indiana and thus it was natural to set English language texts. He has also a deep interest in sacred music, even though Song of Songs in the Old Testament never mentions God or religion – it is rather a love poem. The four songs here are beautiful but not sweet, since his discreet use of dissonances creates a freshness that is very stimulating.

OllÚn’s second contribution to the programme is built on a Swedish song from the province of Dalecarlia. The text, about nature waking up after the cold winter, is from the hymn book. OllÚn also incorporates “kulning”, i.e. very high cantilenas sung by the herds-maids to communicate when they were alone in the woods. They could be heard several miles.

Another ancient way of singing is the joik, employed in the traditional music of the Sami people in the northern parts of Scandinavia. Jan Sandstr÷m – no kinship with Sven-David – grew up in that part of Sweden and employs this very old way of expressing feelings and respect for the nature. There are also in Biegga luohte sounds of drums and even an imitation of ptarmigan, a bird that is the Nordic symbol for peace. This is rhythmic and vital music that resembles the works of Estonian composer Veljo Tormis (1930 – 2017).

Stephen Hatfield, Canadian composer, conductor, instrumentalist and lecturer, has created in Nukapianguaq a non-semantic language and a singing style influenced by the Inuits of the Northern hemisphere. Complicated rhythms and melodic lines sung in different pulse are characteristic features and also unusual vocal effects and hand clapping contribute to the fascination of this work. Vital, wild and voluptuous.

Henrik ědegaard’s mÚtier is primarily church music and he combines Norwegian folk music and Gregorian chant. The rhythm is free and based on the Norwegian language. There are no time signatures or bar-lines. All this combines to a highly personal sound that is quite fascinating.

His compatriot Bj°rn Kruse was born in London and studied in the US and Norway. He is both painter and composer and is an experienced jazz musician. Trolldans is an arrangement of a traditional Norwegian melody, full of joy and rhythmic variety. Repeated syncopations in the bass voices keep the trolls’ dance on the move.

One of the hottest names within Nordic choral music is Jaakko Mńntyjńrvi, and his two short pieces are high octane music that must bring the house down whenever they are performed. “Hambo” is a Swedish folk dance but the preceding “El” is not a Spanish definitive article but the Swedish abbreviation of “electric” and this little work, combining 3/4-time and 5/4-time, is something hilariously swinging and unbridled. Likewise the parodic Pseudo Yoik has nothing to do with the Sami joik but it is just as hilarious as the hambo: primitive, raw and great fun.

Erland von Koch was the Doyen of Swedish composers. He belonged to the same generation as Lars-Erik Larsson, Dag WirÚn and Gunnar de Frumerie but survived them and reached the Old Testamental age of 99. He was deeply interested in folk music and collected traditional melodies which he incorporated in his orchestral works. I-i-o-hi-ho is an arrangement for solo soprano and mixed choir of a Dalecarlian song and the dialectal text says “Come, here, come, little cows!” It is a beautiful encore to this fantastic programme. If you love choral music and plan to buy just one CD this year, be sure you buy this one! You won’t regret it.

G÷ran Forsling

Bengt OLL╔N (b. 1950)
1. Trilo [5:53]
Essi WUORELA (b. 1971) & Jussi CHYDENIUS (b. 1972)
2. Kaipaava [3:20]
Sven-David SANDSTRÍM (b. 1942]
Four Songs of Love [9:18]
3. Songs of Songs 1:2 and 15
4. Songs of Songs 2:17
5. Songs of Songs 4:16
6. Songs of Songs 8:3
Bengt OLL╔N
7. I denna ljuva sommartid [5:00]
Jan SANDSTRÍM (b. 1954)
8. Biegga luohte [5:19]
Stephen HATFIELD (b. 1956)
9. Nukapianguaq [8:23]
Henrik ěDEGAARD (b. 1955)
10. Krist stod op af D°de [3:04]
Bj°rn KRUSE (b. 1946)
11. Trolldans [2:22]
Jaakko M─NTYJ─RVI (b. 1963)
12. El Hambo [2:36]
13. Pseudo-Yoik [2:30]
Erland von KOCH (1910 – 2009)
14. I-i-o-hi-ho [2:14]



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