Kind – Ensemble 96/ Kjetil Almenning, cond./ Nidaros String Quartet – 2L 076-SABD (2 discs: Pure Audio Blu-ray + SACD), 44:18 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
This album by the Grammy-nominated Ensemble 96 chamber choir is dedicated to contemporary lullabies and Norwegian cradle songs, everything themed around children. But these are not all happy thoughts—much, maybe even most of this program consists of settings to texts that are anything but encouraging and cheerful, but instead reflect the darker side of childhood, the things hidden in shadows, along with the uncertainties and insecurities of life.
But I can tell you that the music is simply exquisite, each and every piece, beautifully rendered by a top notch ensemble of 22 singers. The highlight might be the piece for choir and string quartet by Marcus Paus called The Stolen Child, based on the poem by W. B. Yeats. At almost eleven minutes it is the longest work here, and the most dramatically effective, though that is not meant to short the other works at all. Many of the lullabies are gorgeous in melodic content, this region of the world proving yet again that it takes a back seat to no one when it comes to choral tradition.
This was recorded in the Uranienborg Church in Norway, and the acoustics are captured to perfection. The down side is that we are given only 44 minutes of music, and there should have been twice that considering the formats this is being released in. Though the packaging looks like a Blu-Ray video, there are in fact two discs inside, one a Blu-ray audio-only (with a screen display for selection – but it’s not required) and the other an SACD. The Blu-ray is available in 5.0 DTS HD MA 24/192K or a more standard PCM 24bit/192K format. But on the disc and available on the 2L website you can find downloads that include a studio-quality FLAC recording, a CD quality recording, or an MP3. These versions are accessible through hooking up your Blu-ray player to your PC network and using the included mShuttle technology to access them.
Personally I think the SACD recording the best of the bunch, ousting the Blu-ray by just a hair. But all of this comes at a fairly hefty price—about $32 from what I can find, and I don’t know why two formats on two discs containing the same works were included like this when the price jumps up so much. Especially, as I said, when the playing time is so stingy. [Naxos and a couple others are beginning to release similar audio-only Blu-rays, but none include the second SACD disc of the same material due to financial considerations. 2L has support from the Norwegian government…Ed.] But the sound is fantastic, really state-of-the-art, and for that alone in this case, it deserves the highest recommendation. Superb production all the way around.
1. Sov. Sov. Liten Gut (folk song) 2. Die Stimme des Kindes (Jaakko Mantyjarvi (1963-)) 3. Bansull (folk song from Osterdalen) 4. Wie ein Kind I – Wiigen-Lied (per Norgard (1932-)) 5. Bia, Bia Lite Ban (folk song from Voss) 6. Wie ein Kind II – Fruhlings-Lied (per Norgard (1932-)) 7. Bie, Bie Lite Ban (folk song from Telemark) 8. The Stolen Child (Marcus Paus (1979-)) 9. Bansull fra Telemark (folk song) 10. Wie ein Kind III – Trauermarsch Mit Einem Unglucksfall (per Norgard (1932-)) 11. BysJan, BysJan Lite Ban (folk song from Osterdalen)
— Steven Ritter