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OLA GJEILO: Ubi caritas & other works = Str. quartet & guitar – Decca

My second exposure to this composer, and it is a very satisfying experience.

OLA GJEILO: Ubi caritas; The Spheres; The Ground; Sanctus: London; The Crossing; Northern Lights; The Lake Isle; Serenity; Tundra; Reflections; Sacred Heart – Thomas Gould, Ben Hancox, Hannah Dawson & Ciaran McCabe, violins/ Jon Thorne & Simone van der Giessen, violas/ Matthew Sharp, cello/ Kristian Kvalvaag, guitar – Decca B0024646, 47:34 [Distr. by Universal] ****:

Northern Lights was a spectacular SACD on Chandos released a few years ago. It has a couple of the selections here. The forces on this stereo CD (not an SACD) are equally adept at Gjeilo’s idiom, and the sound on this disc is very special indeed, but it cannot compare to the sonic splendor of the Chandos. In that 2012 review I said that “It is in effect a religious album though you would not know it by Chandos’s clever masking of that fact”, and that the composer creates “basically diatonic and melody-driven compositions, making for a quaint and sometimes ingenious combination of Slavic feeling set in the mode of someone like Daniel Pinkham.”

Listening to this disc, I hear little to change my mind.

Gjeilo is no Eric Whitacre—his harmonies refuse the tense, ecstatic, almost overbearing dissonances that fall as easily as consonances on the ear. He is more melody-centered (though not in a traditional sense) and his harmony is calmer and far more pointed. The pieces on this disc use a wide variety of instrumental accompaniment, which differs from the Chandos disc, though I must admit that I don’t hear in the instruments anything that is particularly idiomatic to those instruments. In other words, you could swap out one for another and still come away with the same effect, albeit a slightly different coloring, even though we do have some instrument-only pieces in this collection.

Whichever way you look at it, the music is exceptionally engaging and non-threatening while at the same time alluring and enticing in a very subtle manner. If your blood pressure is high, this might be the ticket. The performers are top-notch, and only the short playing time irritates me, especially as Chandos saw fit to give us an hour, and on as SACD. Nicely done, and well worth considering.

—Steven Ritter

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