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Hans-Ola ERICSSON (b.1958)
The Four Beasts´ Amen. Mass for organ and electronics based on texts by Olov Hartman (1999-2000) [47:08]
Melody to the Memory of a Lost Friend XIII, for organ and electronics (1985) [9:57]
Canzon del Principe. An intabulation on an intabulation for organ and electronics (Don Carlo Gesualdo) (2002) [4:59]
from Höga Visan (Song of Songs), a church opera
Flügeltüren, for organ, percussion and electronics (2002, rev. 2004)
Vocalise, for high soprano and organ (2004)
Anders Hannus (sound direction/electronics); Susanne Rydén (soprano); Tommy Björk (percussion); Hans-Ola Ericsson (organ)
rec. August 2004 Őrgryte New Church, Sweden (Four Beasts’ Amen), January 2005 Luleå Cathedral, Sweden (Melody & Vocalise Flügeltüren), August 2004 Norrfjärden Church, Sweden (Flügeltüren)
BIS SACD-1486 [79'49] 
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There, my dear friends, I would leave it. At Musicweb-International we do things differently however, so I shall qualify my ‘Wow!’ with:
So, there you have it: another winner from BIS – buy it, now.
What, you really want to know what this is all about? Oh, I’m sorry – I realise you can’t always take a man’s ‘Wow!’ or even his ‘Aaaaah!’ for granted, so I shall expand and expound. The Four Beasts´ Amen (Mass for organ and electronics) is a fairly intimidating title, and at over 45 minutes I wasn’t really preparing myself for any kind of ‘Wow!’ I have admired Hans-Ola Ericsson’s organ playing in the past however (his Messiaen cycle on BIS is still among the best - see link for Ericsson's other BIS recordings), and was intrigued to find out that he is also active as a composer. Ericsson begins his booklet notes with a confession of ‘composer’s  block,’ after ceasing to write music since 1986. This Organ Mass was the first work written after this long period of silence, and is an amazing creation. Performed on the instrument for which it was written, the new research organ at Őrgryte New Church, the electronics are derived from the sounds of other organs used in this research project. The project receives no further explanation unfortunately, but the full characteristics of each organ on the CD, and the texts by Olov Hartman which inspired each movement of the Mass are given in full and translated, and indeed give important insights into some of the atmospheres and textures which appear in the music.
Just to give some kind of reference, the half-closed stops and idiosyncratic strangeness of Keith Jarrett’s Hymns & Spheres (from 1976 – flared organ pipes!) go a very small way toward illustrating what you can expect here. In other words, if you liked that, you will probably be blown away by this. Organ traditionalists who treasure their Buxtehude and Karg-Elert box sets may be less enamoured of the kinds of sound-worlds which Ericsson explores, but organ fans who are prepared to take one of life’s lesser risks (buying a CD you might not like – a luxury problem, you must admit) are at the very least guaranteed a true sonic spectacular.
The Preludium is a bit like the opening of Couperin’s Messe pour les paroisses, a clever softening-up which leads the listener in, inspiring confidence but leaving one completely unprepared for what follows. The Kyrie opens with a vast exhalation of air, and consists almost entirely of strange knockings and low whooshes of air: ‘What help to us is our broken-down ships’ hateful anxiety in the silence.’ This ‘organ at sea’ emerges with fragments of plainchant, strangled and enveloped in extraneous noises from the depths – a powerfully understated image. The Gloria is titled Wing-mirrors, and introduces a magnificent, titanic struggle between stabbing, heaving organs both real and reproduced. The Halleluja continues in this vein, but with sustained notes emphasising the glorious tuning differences between the organ sounds, something then prolonged (the previous two movements being no longer than two minutes altogether) in an extended Interludium: ‘The heavens are concealed in every stone upon the ground.’ Textures wash in slow waves, the abrasion of different stops creating uneasy beds of noise, or chiming and fading like Mervyn Peake’s vast and horrifically mouldering ‘bell of felt.’
After this experience, we are plunged once again into a stabbing and echoing multi-organ world in the Sanctus. Hold onto your surround-sound hats in this one. Organs to the left of you, organs to the right and behind – some even seem to be above, dropping chords on you like the guano of some flock of evil, leathery birds. This all builds to a completely mad climax which will have some listeners hiding behind the sofa (ah! you’d have been better off under the table) – a genuine Dr. Who musical terror moment. Thus beaten and shocked, you will be transported to heaven by a truly beautiful Agnus Dei, whose overlapping chorale is indeed ‘…branching out…;’ extending the rising harmonies with subtle dissonant crunches which massage the mental lobes. Whispering birdsong inhabits the Communion, which is dedicated to Olivier Messiaen who is also quoted musically. Aeolian, harmonically treated heartbeats develop, and the upper registers of the organ introduce a further layer of birds – or are they angels? The ‘scala angelica’ rises slowly, gradually revolving around your head, wrapping it in a kind of surrealist bandage. Thus clad, we are released, or rather expelled by the Postludium, whose subtitle ‘Nails’ refers to the crucifixion. A fragmentary exploration of space and distance grinds away, pushing great gobs of sound into the prevailing silence. It is as if the entire church; every inch of interior wall has an infernal organ pipe crowding its surface. At the climax the walls themselves seem to start moving, eventually collapsing under their own weight of lead in great, loose pillars of sound.
In other words, Wow!
Ericsson hasn’t finished with us yet however. Melody to the Memory of a Lost Friend XIII is a potent meditation on death initiated by the suicide of a close friend. The last of a cycle on this theme, the work is also coloured by the work of Hieronymus Bosch in which the tunnel described in near-to-death experiences is depicted. The organ envelopes us in a crescendo of sound-waves with overlapping – ever developing intervals, the colours of which are extended by electronics which add a strange dirty sparkle to these monumental progressions.
The Canzon del Principe is an arrangement of Gesualdo’s Canzon francese del Principe with added improvisatory outbursts. In no way a weak piece, it is however slightly disadvantaged on this CD by being set in the relatively, unexpectedly drier acoustic of Luleå Cathedral. The less grand soundstage is however more than compensated for by the insane quarter-tone interpolations and rocket-powered runs which Ericsson has invented. The wonderful final ‘turn’ will make your hair stand on end and have Scots bagpipers banging on the walls (whether in search of peace or premature Hogmanay, you may never find out).
Our faith in vast, nightmare acoustics is restored in Flügeltüren, which uses the sounds of the organ shutters of the great Hagerbeer/Schnitger organ at the Grote St.Laurenskerk in Alkmaar as the source for the electronics. An ocean of resonance is populated with quasi whale-song wailing, while the organ pipes drench the upper registers like bizarre wind-chimes. It is sometimes hard to tell where the percussion part starts and ends, but a shifting assortment of metallic objects adds to the uneasy spectrum of sound. This is another remarkable sonic experience which rises and falls, inexorably developing and causing the cat to leave the room. Seriously - it most certainly is not a track to be listened to in the dark on your own. The final Vocalise is ‘a wordless song that celebrates the wordless nature of love.’ Rich, Messiaenesque chords support Susanne Rydén’s remarkable range in a suitably dark apotheosis to this remarkable and immensely stimulating CD.
Dominy Clements                                


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