“Mary’s Song” = FRANK HAVROY: O magnum Mysterium; Ave Maria; Salve Regina; Stabat mater; KNUT NYSTEDT: Mary’s Song; JAVIER BUSTO: Magnificat; Salve Regina; RAMONA LUENGEN: Salve Regina – Ensemble Ylajali/ Pal-Are Bakksjo – LAWO multichannel SACD LWM006, 49:17 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

If you think you might feel intimidated by 50 minutes of all-female singing, well, you aren’t alone. I have reviewed a number of these sorts of ensembles where the challenge for a composer is always to find ways of manipulating the sameness of the choral timbre in order to prevent tiresomeness to the ears. This one is pretty successful—I still had moments when I was wishing for a break in the sound, but the Ensemble Ylajali, a recent (2008) chorus of 22 singers, is quite superb, and their finesse in execution won me over. In case you are wondering, the name is taken from the woman in the dreams of the main character of Norwegian author Knut Hamsun’s novel Hunger.

With the exception of the title track, these are all settings of some of the most traditional and beloved sacred texts in the western Christian world. Most are by composer Frank Havroy, who also produced this album, but each of the composers represented have inscribed fine settings of powerful devotion and radiant intimacy. All are manageable as well—Havroy’s Stabat mater is the longest piece here, and it clocks right at ten minutes. Considering the limited time restrictions, and the largesse of the meaning of the texts themselves, you can get an inkling of just how intense and focused each selection is. LAWO’s multifaceted multichannel recording is nicely engineered, taking full advantage of the opportunities offered in hi-res choral surround sound.

—Steven Ritter