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Reviews: Immortal Nystedt - Ensemble96

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Site review by Polly Nomial March 10, 2007
Performance:   Sonics:  
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Review by threerandot April 20, 2007 (2 of 2 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Once in a great while a recording comes along that raises the bar. Immortal Nystedt is one such recording and its not hard to see just why this collection of choral music was nominated for two Grammys; one for "Best Surround Sound Album" and one for "Best Choral Performance".

Knut Nystedt was a name that I had never heard of before. I was introduced to him by hearing this disc. All of the compositions on this disc are performed by voices alone, are colorful, bold, adventurous and vividly recorded. Nystedt is a Norwegian composer who specializes in choral music and has had over seven decades of experience in connection with choral music, beginning as a treble singer when just a boy.

The works in this collection feature, rich, deep, colorful harmonies and music that is filled with awe and wonderment. Nystedt mostly writes for the voices in groups with few solos throughout. The tonal pallete he uses favors uniformity and homogenity more than individuality. The emotions are raw, daring and adventurous. These pieces are inspiring in their richness and devotional quality and the recording presents them evenly balanced from top to bottom. The music, at turns is meditative, mysterious, complex and filled with contrasts of color, sound and dynamics. For me the highlights of this collection are the "Prayers of Kierkegaard" and "Immortal Bach"

"Prayers of Kierkegaard" features yearning vocal harmonies, reaching for answers to the mysteries of God. It is not a piece which utilizes traditional words and texts from the bible, but attempts to communicate with God on a purely human level and I think this is the aspect of this work that appeals to me. It expresses the great divide between Man and God. The great imponderable.

"Immortal Bach" is a reworking of J. S. Bach's Komm, susser Tod and is a fascinating piece not only technically, but in the surround effect it creates around the listener. You will need to sit in the "sweet spot" for the fullest effect of this piece. The album notes describe the effect this way:

"The first three lines of the song are sung, and then repeated – this time the parts are moved in time in relation to one another, coming together in a consonant major chord at the end of each line. The spatial element is an important part of the composer’s reworking: the choir is divided into five equal groups spread around the concert hall or church. The surround technology of the Super Audio CD format reproduces the three-dimensional effect as envisaged by the composer."

"The Seven Words of Christ" uses biblical texts describing the time Christ spent on the cross and his death, filled with more of Nystedt's impressive polyphony.

"The Word Became Flesh", Nytt er livet ("New Is The Life") and Salve Regina ("Hail Holy Queen") are also beautiful works, but the above ones stand out for me.

The audio on this is very impressive. There is plenty of depth with the voices close to us in a large acoustic. What is most impressive is that the words are not difficult to make out, especially if you have the texts close at hand. Voices are never "lost" in the mix. Male and Female voices are eay to distinguish and the Baerum Vokalensemble and Ensemble '96 never have any difficulty in performing these harmically complex and challenging vocal pieces.

I appreciate the large sonic picture on this disc with it's big sound and wide dynamic range which is well focused. There is a distinct decay at the end of some passages which shows just how large the Uranienburg Church really is, which is one of the main locations for many of these 2L recordings. I wish the sound could be a little smoother at times, but having said that, it is remarkable to me that this is a PCM recording and this is really a quibble when there is so much to absorb in these performances. A truly inspired effort. Although I have not heard the other recordings that were nominated at the Grammys alongside this disc, I think it would be very hard to beat this collection as a Choral performance and recording. Highly recommended.

(This review refers to the MCH portion of this disc.)

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