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Ketil BJØRNSTAD (b. 1952) Lofotoratoriet (2017)
Terje Brun (accordion), Brage Tørmœnen (percussion), John Inge Johansen (recitator), Lofoten Voices,
MiNensemblet/Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo-soprano)
Arrangements by Sverre Tollefsen Laupstad
Rec in Svolvœr Church, 4-6 September 2019
Norwegian texts with English translations enclosed
First Recording LAWO LWC1202 [68:52]
Lofoten is a cluster of islands in northern Norway with a thousand-year-old history of fisheries (primarily cod and pollock) and famous for the majestic and heavenly nature, thus being a popular tourist resort. Thanks to the Gulf Stream the winter is relatively mild while the summer is cool. The area is sparsely populated, about 25 000 inhabitants but the cultural life is rich: painters, photographers, authors, poets and musicians and in the summertime there is the Lofoten International Chamber Music Festival. It was also during that festival in 2017 the Lofoten Oratorio was premiered. The idea was hatched during a dinner in 2013 with Ketil Bjørnstad, Wiggo Andersen, Knut Kirkesœther and Marianne Beate Kielland. Many poets and authors have been enthralled by the nature and the long history of Lofoten and Bjørnstad has selected lyrics and prose texts that mirror various aspects on this and organised them as a libretto in eighteen pictures. Bjørnstad is a classically educated pianist, who later has embraced also jazz and rock. He has produced more than 50 CD albums, many of them large scale works for choir, soloists and ensembles. With his background in both the classical and popular fields he writes melodious and beautiful music – many of the lyrical movements here are catchy, while there are also dramatic and rhythmically striking pieces that reveal his deep insight in jazz.
Marianne Beate Kielland is not only one of today’s foremost mezzo-sopranos, but since 2009 she also has her own women’s choir, Lofoten Voices, comprised of local amateur and professional singers. The instrumentalists are also active in the arctic region. MiNensemblet is a professional chamber ensemble, touring both nationally and internationally. Accordionist Terje Brun, church musician, choir director, teacher and a source for inspiration in the region, has three times been Nordic Accordionist of the Year and percussionist Brage Tørmœnen, who has an important role in this work, for instance when he imitates the sound of the fishing-boats, is a music teacher. Arranger Sverre Tollefsen Laupstad has, like Bjørnstad, a background as jazz pianist and he composes orchestral music and music for film and theatre. John Inge Johansen, the recitator, is a well-known radio host, journalist and TV-personality. He recites three prose-texts with great ability to live the parts and it is a pity that those texts are not printed in the booklet and thus not translated into English, which is a great drawback for non-Scandinavians. One of these texts (tr. 4) is an excerpt from Edgar Allan Poe’s A Descent into the maelstrom in a Norwegian translation. The second (tr.6) is an excerpt from Johan Bojer’s novel Den siste Viking (1921) (The Last of the Vikings, 1923) and the last (tr. 16), Beretninger fra 1849 by Hans Henrik Schreiber Schulze, after an account from a surviving fisherman. The poems that Bjørnstad chose are by Terje Johanssen, Ingrid Arctander, J. P. Bahle, Ole Bremnes and Sølvi Ytterstad.
Lofotoratoriet opens softly and ethereally with the tender voices of the women’s choir in Lofoten, an affectionate declaration of love to the islands. It is so beautiful, so loveable and shimmering. It is followed by Sommernatt (A Summer’s Night). Slowly the long day Turns into a night that isn’t a night. Nights there are still in the world But not here. We wander in a day that isn’t a day Dreaming of things that might not be – While the words rest breathlessly In an endless day. Slowly passes that night that isn’t a night – What is near becomes distant, distant the near. And we who are children of earth and soil Fill our souls with all heaven’s gold.
(Text and translation: Ingrid Arctander)
The light arctic summer nights are of course spellbinding and at Lofoten they have a special magic. The poem and the music catch this atmosphere so enchantingly, first with Marianne Beate Kielland’s heavenly voice, followed by an instrumental interlude and then the choir brings the song to an enthralling end. And then the magic is sustained in song after song by the choir or Marianne Beate Kielland or both, only interrupted by the recitations. But Lofoten is far from an eternal idyll. The ocean that surrounds it can be beautiful and tempting but also wild and dangerous and the fishermen risk their lives when they set out for their daily duties. The sea can be a boiling maelstrom and the small fishing-boats can be crushed like an eggshell. This is also depicted in powerful scenes with intense rhythmical thrust, almost orgiastic – and I am amazed that the choir can muster such knock-out energy.
But after the story of the surviving fisherman, the two concluding numbers bring us back to the idyllic mood of the opening. The long Tale til havet (A Speech to the Ocean), a setting of a poem by Sølvi Ytterstad, is followed by Salme for alle reisende (Traveller’s Psalm), a traditional text from the Lofoten area, beautifully sung by Marianne Beate Kielland and Lofoten Voices. The psalm is achingly beautiful and the tune remains in my head a long time after the music has stopped.
The whole project is, as I said above, a declaration of love to Lofoten, and all involved have done a great job to carry it through. The music is easy to love, very often beautiful without being sugary, former and prospective visitors to Lofoten should snap it up without delay and others may also be persuaded to visit this arctic jewel after hearing this disc.