Schola Cantorum, a chamber choir made up of music students from the University of Oslo, is a remarkably disciplined and mature group. In this selection of very challenging contemporary secular choral music, the group sings with security of intonation, a warmly blended tone, and sensitivity to the music's extreme demands. There's also a charged passion in their performances. The CD is essentially a vehicle for several substantial works by Norwegian composer Bjørn Morten Christophersen (born 1976), but it includes works by contemporary American choral masters such as Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre, as well as several less well known Norwegian composers. The most striking piece is Whitacre's Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine, with a text by Charles Antonio Silvestri. Whitacre's handling of the text is breathtakingly inventive and astonishing in its aptness. He employs conventions of late Renaissance madrigal writing that at first recall Gesualdo, but he veers far beyond Gesualdo's eccentricities into a surreal polyphonic landscape that ultimately leads convincingly to a sense of being airborne. This piece is a stunner. In comparison, his most famous work, Water Night, with a text by Octavio Paz, seems tame and conventional. Christophersen is another composer who fully succeeds at pushing the bounds of choral writing while maintaining an emotional directness that never loses touch with his audience. In Gjenfødelsen, his setting of a text by painter Edvard Munch, with viola accompaniment, his use of extended vocal techniques and rich choral textures is expert, and his control of his seemingly disparate elements creates a compelling, powerfully unified composition. The sound of the hybrid SACD is warmly resonant but clean. The appealing repertoire and fine performances make this a CD that should be of strong interest to fans of contemporary choral music.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
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