“Nightingale” = UGIS PRAULINS: The Nightingale; DANIEL BÖRTZ: Nemesis divina; SUNLEIF RASMUSSEN: “I”; PETER BRUUN: 2 scenes with Skylark – Michala Petri, recorders/ Danish Nat. Vocal Ens./ Stephen Layton – OUR Recordings multichannel SACD 6.220605, 59:22 *****:
I hate jumping on bandwagons and like to think that for the most part I can come to decisions myself without the influence of the international press, but in this case I have to follow them with no little eagerness. This new album by the ever-inventive Michala Petri and the spectacular Danish National Vocal Ensemble that collects four commissioned world premieres is nothing short of astonishing, having garnered—so far—a Deutsche Phono-Akademie 2012 ECHO Klassik Award, plus a Gramophone nomination, less notable to be sure, but still important.
One would wonder at the wisdom of assembling a choral group with only a recorder as the solo instrument, but the cleverness with which each of these composers integrates the instrument into the textures of their music, each with a specific design in mind, is most impressive. As on any disc there will be favorites, and in my mind all four works are not equal in importance or the impression they make. Latvian composer Ugis Praulins has created the best work on the disc, taking eight sections from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale to make a 30-minute piece of great theatricality and ecstatic utterance, notwithstanding what also amounts to a full-fledged recorder concerto as well. Praulins has a wide and eclectic background that refuses to be pigeonholed, so I won’t try here; suffice it to say that this piece grabs you immediately while also giving the choir an intense workout in choral virtuosity and range, the recorder commenting perfectly along the way.
Daniel Börtz, whom many readers may recognize, treats us to a much darker world of choral sound, not surprising since his earlier years were heavily influenced by the sonorities of the Polish avant-garde. Here he takes two texts from the botanist and physician Carl Linnaeus, “The Dietetics of Respiration” and “Nemesis divina”, a meditation on theodicy written for his son. The piece revels in the brokenness of the word settings, using the text as a springboard for intensely manifested passages that almost over-emote their innate meaning. One does not come away with an impression of the words as a meaning in total, but of individual moments focusing on one word or a group of words.
Faroe Islands native Sunleif Rasmussen presents us with the most “difficult” work on this disc (though none of them are terribly esoteric) by taking the text of Danish modernist poet Inger Christensen’s response to Wallace Stevens’s Thirteen Ways at looking at a Blackbird, focusing on intimacy and the freedom of the individual. Though the piece is structured, it is done in such a manner that the number organization used to represent several of the phrases mean little to the listener, who instead is drawn into the variety of independent voices and disparate, dissonant melodies. A work like this, though loaded with fascinating sounds and colors, uses the text as inspiration instead of trying to illuminate the meaning.
The final work by eclectic Danish composer Peter Braun uses two poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins, whose many “bird” poems serve as metaphors for the human condition and their souls, enabling a poetic excursion into his very personal contemplation of the world and the divine. Both pieces are wonderfully reflective of Hopkin’s world, using a modified consonance inundated with arpeggios and appoggiaturas and pentatonic melody to create waves of fragmented songlike melody.
The surround sound on this disc is resonant and spectacular, with the voices soaring over your head. Despite some of the more challenging moments on this disc, it would be a crime to not acquire it. Excellent notes, complete with full texts round out the project.
Pure Pleasure Records releases a re-mastered vinyl of a live duo performance by Archie Shepp.