|Site review by Geohominid May 13, 2011
Performance: Sonics (S/MC): /
|Norway's culture is suffused by a long history of folk art. In music, this takes the form of virtuosic fiddle music, songs and hymns. Choral music-making, from the village to the concert hall, is also a very strong tradition, attracting most of Norway's composers, Grieg amongst them. The 30-odd strong Oslo Chamber Choir has had a special interest in folk music since its inception in 1984, with the aim not only of learning and preserving folk songs but also integrating folk music into modern idioms. Its present conductor and Musical Director, Håkon Daniel Nystedt, has a particular interest in such projects, hence the present disc.
As Nystadt states in a brief note, there is a communality between folk tunes and classical church music; both are about longing. The classical music attempts to describe the object of longing, while the folk tunes seek to describe the longing itself. Nystadt poses the question "what happens when these two expressions meet?"
At first sight, one could simply intersperse folk songs with classical choral items; possibly not very original. But to move matters to a much higher plane, Nystadt and his choir have sought not only to do this, but in some cases to directly mix folk songs with classical movements by Rachmaninov, Grieg, Bruckner and Tchaikovsky. My first answer to the "what happens" question was "probably chaos". And this is where "Strid" comes in; it is the Norwegian for "struggle".
The core of the programme thus consists of solo folk singers, amongst the best in Norway for carrying forward the oral traditions, singing alone or with the choir in wonderfully apt arrangements. The soloists, male and female, include natural, untrained voices as well as more trained tones. Not only are their voices beautiful and characterful, but the melodies and simple hymns are just achingly beautiful and captivating. Solo singers often decorate their lines with sweetly poignant mordents and turns, adding to their melodic impact. Spontaneous interaction between soloists and choir is electric and deeply emotional. Choral accompaniments, some by Nystedt himself, have a plethora of ear-catching textures, and the choir has a huge dynamic and emotional range. I was particularly taken with their superb control of long crescendos and diminuendos, with long-drawn out hushed singing fading to a mere wisp of sound without loosing body of tone. Once this disc is started, one is irresistibly drawn in to its end.
Coming to the combination tracks, extracts from the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom by Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky are sung by the choir in true Slavic idiom with vibrant fervency. Astonishingly, the folk songs soar above and about the choral parts almost as if they were made together. The "struggle" never really becomes reality, apart from one or two minor harmonic clashes which only add to the drama. The marriage of folk song and classical chorus with Grieg's "Blegnet, Segnet" (Withered, Fallen) for double choir, Op.39, no. 5 is already made in Heaven, for Grieg's music is already imbued with Norway's folk idiom. Entirely unexpected is the glorious sound made by "O The Deep Deep Love of Jesus" superimposed on Bruckner's 'Locus iste'.
The other partner in this inspired creative experiment is undoubtedly the atmospheric sound picture wrought by 2L. Recording directly in DXD with a simple 3-2 array of fine microphones (and a discretely used spot for the soloist at centre front) has convincingly brought the acoustic of the lovely Ris Church into one's home. The choir are disposed all around the listener at a good distance, and the sensation of being at the heart of the music-making is palpable. An attractively designed single digipak has all the texts in Norwegian and English, and the information about each of the folk singers adds much to the listener's appreciation. and understanding.
It may be that I am biased, having spent much time in Norway over several decades, giving me some knowledge of the land and its people. So this has been an extraordinary musical experience for me: one so intensely beautiful and stirring that I was often in tears. The dedication of the whole team, and the choir's evident pride and joy in both their folk and classical arts is communicated directly and unmistakeably.
If you have the slightest interest in vocal music, you must hear 'Strid' for yourself. It is a superlative experience.
Copyright © 2011 John Miller and SA-CD.net