Ensemble 96

Immortal Nystedt

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It's quite an achievement to become famous in one's lifetime, even to be hailed as a great master, yet the creators of Immortal Nystedt seem to have presented the esteemed Norwegian composer his eternal reward a bit prematurely. Knut Nystedt is indeed celebrated in his country, and he has been honored with a knighthood in the Order of St. Olav for his work, so some kudos are clearly in order. But if the a cappella choral music on this SACD by Øystein Fevang with Ensemble 96 and the Bærum Vokalensemble is representative of Nystedt's best work, then the praise is a little extravagant. These are workmanlike pieces, to be sure, consisting of fluid tonal melodies over block chords that proceed at a moderately slow pace and that rarely stray from their lush added-note harmonies. However, though Nystedt's compositions are polished and effective, they reflect a fairly conservative approach to choral writing that makes them sound less than innovative and feel unexciting. Perhaps only Nytt er livet for women's choir (2003) has enough chromatic variety and tension in its dissonant counterpoint to be striking, and the mysteriously blurred arrangement of the chorale Komm, süsser Tod in Immortal Bach (1987) has some magic to captivate the listener. Unfortunately, the rest of the program is uniform in its reverent moods and staid in its rhythmic and harmonic regularity, so seekers of interesting or adventurous choral music will find this album a disappointment, even with the expressive singing and excellent audio engineering.

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