Hans-Ola Ericsson is a Swedish composer and organist; aside from performing and composing, he also travels about Sweden assisting in the restoration of historic organs. A noted interpreter of the organ music of Olivier Messiaen, he’s recorded Messiaen’s entire output for Swedish label BIS. His compositional style definitely leans toward the avant-garde, and many of his works have been influenced by such avantgarde mavens as Luigi Nono and Klaus Huber. Ericsson eventually found his compositional style restrictive, and in 1985 entered a period of artistic silence that lasted almost fifteen years. In 2000 he was offered a commission by Concerts Sweden; that commission resulted in The Four Beasts’ Amen, and he seems to have since recovered his compositional voice.
The SACDs centerpiece, The Four Beasts’ Amen, is essentially a mass for organ and electronics. By “organ,” that translates into multiple organs; Ericsson employed at least six organs throughout the complex piece, and they intertwine and overlap in an utterly chaotic fashion. To say that the piece is a difficult listen is an understatement indeed; there are extended periods of sounds so utterly quiet, they’re almost indiscernible. These nearly interminable silences are often interspersed with hair-raisingly bombastic bursts from multiple organs – this disc is definitely a lease-breaker. This selection also employs the surround channels to maximum effect – the sixth movement Sanctus opens with an organ burst that alternately moves from channel to channel at full blast, then repeats with another chord, alternating from channel to channel, while the previous chord continues moving from channel to channel. The effect is absolutely dizzying! This is not to say that the music is completely without melody, however – there are many melodious movements throughout. Among my favorite tracks on the disc are excerpts from a work titled Hoga Visan (Song of Songs) that employs extensive use of electronics and percussive effects; the crescendo that builds is astonishing, and quite literally resembles late-sixties era Pink Floyd, circa the album UmmaGumma. I’d keep this disc for that track alone.
While this sort of music isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, the disc is filled with some seriously staggering transients, and is a reference quality surround recording – this disc will definitely show off your system’s capabilities. And despite the difficult nature of much of the music, I still found a great deal of enjoyment throughout. Highly recommended.
— Tom Gibbs