Oslo Kammerkor

Strid

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The Norwegian word strid means struggle, and the title of this release from Norway's consistently innovative 2L label has a specific connatation and indicates a unique method in the program. The packaging summarizes that method: "When classical music by Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, and Bruckner [is] combined with religious folk tunes the result is a novel contemporary expression, where two very different melodies, singing techniques, and texts are juxtaposed. The STRUGGLE that arises reveal[s] new dimensions of music." As if that weren't enough, Oslo Chamber Choir conductor Håkon Daniel Nystedt expands a bit on the concept: both classical church music and religious folk tunes are "about longing, but "the classical music attempt[s] to describe the object of longing, whereas the folk tunes seek to describe the longing itself." This does not fit 100% with the struggle idea, but the "new dimensions of music" claim is accurate: this sounds like nothing you've heard before. The basic idea is realized in various ways. A folk melody may be juxtaposed with a classical piece; most of these are Norwegian, with one work by Grieg in addition to the promised Russian and German composers, who seem to have been picked for the stark, minimal quality of their church music (Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky are represented by excerpts from their liturgical settings). There are also fascinating departures from this pattern. Sample track 3, Den ville sauen (The Lost Sheep), which includes two folk layers: the choral part consists of an arrangement of a religious song by a composer, Johannes Bakken, who accompanied himself in the fiddle in original songs, while a soloist contributes traditional sheep-herding calls. Hear how the spine-tingling beginning of this track develops from one of those calls. In general the folk element is represented by a soloist and the classical element by the choir, but the treatments of this idea are varied and have been assembled with great skill. The musical language is largely diatonic but in some pieces is dotted with flashes of sharp dissonance. A fascinating outing for anyone interested in potential combinations of classical and vernacular elements, or, indeed, any fan of contemporary choral music. The 2L engineering team contributes excellent super audio sound to round out the package.

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