James Gilchrist / Mona Julsrud

Knut Nystedt: Apocalypsis Joannis

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Like many composers of his generation, Knut Nystedt abandoned avant-garde and adopted a neo-Romantic style which, for better or worse, reflects the conservative zeitgeist at the millennium. Nystedt's Apocalypsis Joannis (2000) is an uncomfortably reactive work, pretentious in its religiosity and confused in its musical references. Sounding by turns like Sibelius, Shostakovich, and Mahler, Nystedt demonstrates that he can steal from the past, yet to what end is unclear. In the first three orchestral movements, Nystedt's music is hostile, brooding, and bleak, without a trace of beauty or even irony to alleviate its severe tone. In the long choral finale "Hymnus, Jerusalem" -- a setting of verses from the Book of Revelation -- Nystedt's influences appear to be Orff and Henze, and bombast and secular pietism are at play. While there are a few moments of loveliness in the closing section, they are insufficient to redeem this otherwise unattractive work. Except for strained and throaty soprano Mona Julsrud and overly theatrical tenor James Gilchrist, the performers are decent. Arild Remmereit and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir deserve credit for making this symphony cohere in spite of itself. The recording seems merely adequate, but its lack of sonic depth may only be attributable to Nystedt's shallow orchestration.

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