Kjetil Almenning / Ensemble 96

Kind [Hybrid SACD & Blu-Ray]

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According to the program notes for Kind, the album's title refers both to the German word for child and the English adjective. In spite of the types of titles that predominate -- Sleep, Sleep, Little Boy; Hush, Hush, Little Child; Lullaby -- the label of lullaby or cradle song doesn't do justice to the variety and sophistication of the pieces; the description of the project by the Swedish chamber choir Ensemble 96 as music "about children, for adults," seems perfectly apt. The distinctive sound of the choir is immediately apparent in its youthful, fresh, open tone, its precision, and the variety of colors it can produce, from the most chaste, sweet purity to the nasal sonorities of Eastern European folk singing to virtuoso extended vocal techniques. That last description shouldn't scare off fans of traditional choral singing; when Per Nørgård, for instance, in Wie ein Kind -- Wiigen-Lied, calls on the singers to howl and swoop, the sounds in context seem dramatically and musically inevitable and are immensely powerful. Nørgård, in fact, sometimes seems to be channeling Meredith Monk through the filter of his own characteristically expressive and gripping musical language. Besides the three striking pieces by Nørgård, the works by Norwegian composers Jaakko Mäntyjärvi and Marcus Paus are standouts. Paus' setting of William Butler Yeats' "The Stolen Child" with string quartet accompaniment is the largest and most ambitious work on the album. It's sumptuously lyrical and magically wild, and it beautifully captures the alluring mystery and danger and melancholy of the Yeats; the piece is a real stunner. Six of the works are exemplary arrangements of Norwegian folk songs by Frank Havrøy, who retains the essence of the originals while couching them in the heightened expressiveness of a more contemporary harmonic language. Kjetil Almenning leads Ensemble 96 (and the Nidaros String Quartet in the Paus work) with sensitivity and intense focus. The sound of 2L's hybrid SACD is immaculate, spacious, and warmly ambient. The album also includes an audio Blu-ray disc.

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