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Ståle KLEIBERG (b. 1958)
Hymn to Love (2009) [14:35]
Andrew SMITH (b. 1970)
Requiem (2012) [46:20]
The Light [9:41]
Trygve Seim (saxophones)
Ståle Storløkken, Petra Bjørkhaug (organ)
Nidarosdomens jentekor
TrondheimSolistene/Anita Brevik
rec. 2017/18, Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim, Norway
2L 2L150SABD SACD/Blu-ray [70:44]

The music on this recording celebrates the 25-year anniversary of TrondheimSolistene choir, but is mainly a commemoration and expression of feelings around the horrific events of 22 July 2011, when a right-wing extremist caused a car bomb explosion in Norway’s capital city, followed by the shooting of children and young people at a Worker’s Youth League summer camp on the island of Utøya in Lake Tyri. 77 lives were lost that day, and the usually peaceful country of Norway has never been quite the same since.

Ståle Kleiberg is becoming an increasingly familiar name recordings such as his Requiem, Symphonies, and on the 2L label Concertos and Chamber Works. This new recording joins the 2L release of his Mass for Modern Man (review). Kleiberg’s style is tonal and of immediate appeal; avoiding sentimentality, but with a heart-on-sleeve romanticism that moves and inspires at the same time. The youthful voices of both Hymn to Love and The Light are given impassioned depth by the string orchestra accompaniment; the latter more animated and hopeful when compared to the former’s more introvert message. The organ in The Light contributes colour and some heft to the bass lines to make for a close filled with optimism.

Andrew Smith’s Requiem is a remarkable piece. Commissioned before the events of 2011 but completed after them, the texts adapt some of the usual Requiem sections with biblical excerpts about atrocities towards children, such as Rachel’s anguish at the abduction of her children by the Babylonians, and Herod’s notorious infanticide after the birth of Jesus. All of the texts are printed in the booklet in English, Latin where applicable, and Norwegian.

A notable feature is Trygve Seim’s improvisatory performance throughout the piece. The original accompaniment was for organ and jazz trumpeter Arve Henriksen, and while the saxophone is very effective and there are some magical moments, one can’t help but be reminded of the sonorities of Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard ensemble on the ECM label – especially given Smith’s use of Gregorian chant as an inspirational starting point. I can imagine this being something of a Marmite feature for listeners – you might find it as appealing as a bee buzzing around your head during a concert, but one would hope that the skill and musicality on show also generates its own appreciation.

The Gregorian aspect in this Requiem is one that keeps us grounded, cropping up most audibly in movements such as the Kyrie and Sanctus. Elsewhere there are hints of Fauré and Duruflé, the composers of two inescapable 20th musical ancestors of many a modern Requiem. There are some beautifully gentle ‘soundscape’ moments from the voices which can trace their lineage to Poland and perhaps electronic overdubbing, and the solo saxophone can never entirely escape its jazz heritage. The effects are always in the service of some serious mourning however. Seim’s tearful saxophone solo in Hymnum canentes martyrum is comforted by a gorgeous a capella entry of the female voices, the gentle harmonic progression from the organ spilling over into Vox in Rama which rises to a climactic greatness that will make your crockery rattle and start the dog barking. If there is a ‘hit’ piece here then it can be found in the disarmingly simple melody of the Dominus pascit me, and the final In paradisum is guardedly uplifting, ultimately fading into infinity.

As usual for the 2L label these recordings are excellent, the microphone placements and distribution of musicians mapped out in the booklet and giving those of us with surround sound some added perspective. I tend to listen with headphones, and the SACD stereo layer has bags of depth and colour, with a widely spread soundstage. Some of the organ pedal notes will provide a grand test for your woofers, and with both SACD and Blu-ray discs included the true audiophiles can have a whale of a time.

Dominy Clements

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