“Nordic Sounds” = SVEN-DAVID SANDSTROM: Lobet den Herrn (Praise the Lord) for two soprano soloists & mixed chorus; Ave Maria for two sop. soloists & mixed chorus; Hear my prayer, O Lord for vocal ensemble; Es ist genung (It is enough) for sop. soloist & mixed chorus; A New Song of Love; Laudamus Te; Agnus Dei; Singet dem Herrn (Sing unto the Lord) – Swedish Radio Choir and soloists/ Peter Dijkstra – Channel Classics multichannel SACD CCS SA 29910 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi), 63:50 ****:
The Swedish composer, Sven-David Sandstrom (b. 1942) writes music that is all at once complex, attractive, eclectic, neo-romantic and difficult to categorize. I was not very familiar with his music until hearing this new collection of some of his choral works. Each of these pieces is very interesting, enjoyable to listen to and fascinating to try to analyze.
One of the things that makes Sandstrom’s music so interesting is the diversity of the tonal language and the very eclectic nature of the overall sound. According to the very useful booklet notes by Per Broman, Sandstrom’s choral writing has several defining characteristics that make it so unique: human utterance (non-linguistic, such as humming), drama, unique voicing, neo-romantic harmonies, minimalist style repetition of rhythms and melodic cells, extremes of tempo, dynamic and range and canonic, motet-like writing. There are moments in the works presented that exemplify these characteristics.
“Lobet den Herrn” from 2003 uses the text from a Bach motet of the same name to create a dynamic and beautiful sounding work that contains some of the para-minimalist techniques such as the increasing intensity, in the first few words, derived from repeated rhythms. Sandstrom has, in fact, set six of the Bach sacred motets to his own vision and in similar ways. The choral writing is lush, but tightly constructed and the soloists on this performance, Marie Alexis and Marike Scheele perform wonderfully. The same two gifted soloists are featured in Sandstrom’s “Ave Maria” (1994). This work, in fact, is characteristic by a more pronounced use of repeated rhythmic patterns and makes a strong impact. The well known very brief annunciation prayer is developed into an eight minute work for double chorus and soloists of mystery and beauty.
“Hear my Prayer, O Lord” is very compelling as well in that it is based on an unfinished anthem by Purcell. The Purcell is heard, almost unaltered, until Sandstrom dramatically – and effectively – changes the final chord, forcing it through dissonant, polytonal bends until the piece ends peacefully on a C major chord. Sandstrom clearly has a love for older music and texts and making them speak for himself and modern audiences. This is clear in his “Es ist genung”, after Buxtehude and the Swedish composer, Herman Palm. In Sandstrom’s rendition, the sound and feel becomes more spiritual; almost mystical. Soprano Jessica Backlund adds a clear, ethereal beauty to the already mysterious sound.
In both the “Laudamus te” as well as Sandstrom’s “Singet dem Herrn” (a ‘new song of love’) the choral writing is expansive and built on his use of increasing intensity. Both works build in volume and presence, seeming to come from a great distance but becoming more and more present and felt by the listener. His “Agnus Dei” is a sixteen-part choral work that helped to define Sandstrom as a choral composer. According to Broman’s booklet notes, the audience at the work’s Stockholm premiere in 1981 responded with amazing enthusiasm, rushing the stage, wanting to have copies of the score!
Not knowing anything about Sven-David Sandstrom was almost a benefit in hearing this disc. All the pieces are simply wonderful choral writing and the sound of this disc is terrific! This is a hybrid SACD/CD in surround sound. I had the probable misfortune of listening to it on a conventional CD player. I was still very impressed with both the music as well as the sound. The voices really come out of the speakers and envelope the listening space with all the intended effects and intensities. I can only imagine (but will go find out!) what the disc sounds like on multichannel SACD. The performances by the Swedish Radio Choir and director Peter Dijkstra are superb and this should capture the attention and admiration of anyone who enjoys good quality choral music.
Channel Classics is to be commended for carrying music of this quality and for creating a disc that sounds this good. They are a Netherlands based company specializing in audiophile recordings of the new or of lesser known artists and this disc is an excellent introduction to their high quality craftsmanship and artistry.
— Daniel Coombs