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Marcus PAUS (b. 1979)
The Beauty That Still Remains (2015, text by Anne Frank) [40:44]
Asylos (2013, text by Aasne Linnestå and Simone Weil) [31:31]
Frode Haltli (accordion)
Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo-soprano)
Nora Aleksandra Lindeman Katla (soprano)
Schola Sanctae Sunnivae/Anne Kleivset
Det Norske Jentekor/Anne Karin Sundal-Ask
rec. 2018/19, Uranienborg Church, Norway

The Norwegian Girls Choir (Det Norske Jentekor) is very much the driving force behind this recording, having commissioned both of the works in this programme. Here it “addresses the theme of the inviolability of human dignity. The music by Marcus Paus and Maja S.K. Ratkje frames, in contrasting ways, the power that humanity and hope carry with them even amid the most intense horror, and through testimonies of the past, these works tell us how relevant these topics still are.”

The Beauty That Still Remains was composed for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of occupied Europe after WWII, and is also a tribute to Anne Frank, from whose diaries the texts are taken. None of the sung texts are included in the booklet which is unfortunate since they can at times be tricky to follow in this context, but the intimate and expressive tones of Frode Haltli’s accordion are a vital aspect in the largely introverted atmosphere of the piece. The pure sound of the choir and the fragile voices of its soloists are a perfect synergy for Anne Frank’s words, who would have been of a similar age to these vocalists when she died at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. Marcus Paus’ idiom is tonal but avoids sentimentality, and there are some beautiful textures created in the choir, a halo of sound that contrasts with quiet and unquiet virtuosity from the accordion. Not all of the music is atmospheric of course, and there is a martial rhythm set up in the drama of Prescription for Gunfire Jitters, and A Portrait of Anne sees the accordion in an uneven waltz that describes a sense of fun and perhaps even some teenage ungainliness.

There is contrast as well between the two works on this recording. Performing composer Maja S. K. Ratkje is considered to be at the forefront of the musical avant-garde, and her Asylos is part of a trilogy of works that confront some of the serious challenges of our times, in this case “looking at today’s asylum seekers as contemporary pilgrims.” The booklet notes provide further orientation: “Asylos can be described as a modern cantata… divided into three main sections, each of them introduced by quotations, gently adapted, from the French philosopher Simone Weil… The broad range of expression [in this work] reflects Weil’s universe and her faith in the goodness deep in everyone’s heart, but at the same time represents Ratkje’s and Linnestå’s vision of creating a new musical experience through what might appear as chaos.”

This is a piece filled with intriguing juxtapositions, with children’s songs and games rubbing shoulders with Gregorian chant, spoken word and beautiful singing and all kinds of theatrical scenes being created and as quickly dissolved into jaw-dropping moments of unexpected stylistic and musical counterpoint. If you only try one track turn to the haunting penultimate movement, Ring — Aureola which has it all. The non-Norwegian speakers among us will not be able to follow the texts, but this seems relatively unimportant. There is plenty of amazing music to get to grips with, and with its sense of powerful narrative you can allow your imagination to roam free. You are guaranteed to want to hear this much more than just once, but that is true of both pieces in this programme.

As with all of Morton Lindberg’s 2L recordings you can expect stunning sound in every format, with an especially fine and involving balance from the SACD disc and no doubt even more refinement from the Blu-ray disc also included. Audiophiles can have fun experiencing both Auro-3D and Dolby Atmos, both of which add height as a dimension to the sound. This is a programme with some very fine and indeed moving choral music, and while not without its sense of challenge, should be rewarding to anyone with even the mildest feel for adventure in their listening.

Dominy Clements

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