SIGURD ISLANDSMOEN: Requiem; Kristiansand Symfoniorkester/Det Norkse Solistkor/soloists/ Terje Boye Hansen – 2L Records

by | Feb 28, 2013 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

SIGURD ISLANDSMOEN: Requiem; Kristiansand Symfoniorkester/Det Norkse Solistkor/soloists/Terje Boye Hansen – 2L Records multichannel SACD 2L36 (Distr. by Naxos), 51:05 ****:

Sigurd Islandsmoen was, for much of the first half of the 20th century, one of Norway’s best known composer-conductors. His output was mostly choral and oratorio and of his many works in these genres, the Requiem was his best known work and performed often.

Somehow, the work more or less disappeared from performance shortly after the composer’s death in 1964 and this excellent recording in fine SACD form offers a terrific opportunity for at least a recorded “revival” of this very moving work. Islandsmoen had studied with Max Reger and, combined with his own studies of many of the big, late Romantic choral masterpieces, it is not surprising that the tonal vocabulary in the Requiem is traditional and the mood is similar to the music of late Brahms with shades of Bruckner.

Islandsmoen himself conducted many choral masterpieces including the Brahms Requiem and Mendelssohn’s Elijah, from which he drew inspiration. The structure of the Requiem is pretty typical of the form; except that in Islandsmoen’s work, the “Gradual” is included right after the “Introitus.”  Another unique feature of this piece is that, like Brahms, Islandsmoen wanted to create a work that spoke to his fellow countrymen. Therefore, Islandsmoen relies on a certain amount of Norwegian folk melody; most notably in the Dies Irae, Kyrie and Agnus Dei sections. In each case, the composer utilized arrangements of traditional materials found in the Valdres song book compiled by musicologist Oystein Gaukstad.

Musically, this piece does not break new ground in any way. In fact, it will remind people of Brahms and Bruckner in spots; not a bad thing. There are moments of great repose and beauty, like the Introitus and Gradual. The Lacrymosa is serene and contemplative; not moribund in any way with wonderful solos for soprano and tenor. The Dies Irae is a propulsive setting and sounds a little bit like the mood provided in the Cherubini setting as opposed to the fire and doom-tinged mood established by Mozart or Verdi.

The closing Pie Jesu and Agnus Dei are quite noteworthy. Both of these settings are typically very melodic and reverential, this one being no exception. The Pei Jesu is another section that Islandsmoen treated with traditional Norwegian folk melody and the Agnus Dei is a subtly majestic way to close the nearly one-hour work.

Composers have come back to the traditional Latin requiem many times for material due to the inherent emotion of the texts. Death, redemption, the wrath of God and the mercy of God are all themes that resonant with Christian cultures worldwide. Certainly, there are so many good, enduring settings in a number of styles to choose from. I count among my favorites the Mozart, Brahms, Verdi, Faure and Britten’s War Requiem.  Hearing this without any information, I doubt that any listener would know this is Sigurd Islandsmoen or even that it is of Scandinavian origin.

This is so much the better; for what a pleasant discovery this large and moving work is. The performance is outstanding and an equally pleasant discovery, not being familiar with the Kristiansand Symphony or Maestro Hansen at all. The four vocal soloists and the Norwegian “Soloists” Choir are just as splendid. Lastly, I have now heard a few different recordings from Lindberg Linn (2L) and the audio engineering – in this case, multi-channel SACD – is fantastic, with a full but not overbearing presence.

Any lover of big choral repertoire would greatly enjoy this. Highly recommended!

—Daniel Coombs

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