We popped over to Belgium to check out classical music's newest concert hall.
Two good ensembles and the usually excellent Norwegian Soloists’ Choir fail to find inspiration in Islandsmoen's 1936 Requiem.
Artists: Soloists, The Norwegian Soloists’ Choir, Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra/Terje Boye Hansen
Label: 2L 2L36SACD
The Music: Sigurd Islandsmoen was a sort of Norwegian John Stainer – a resourceful church musician with an evidently brilliant musical brain who used his admiration for the great church musicians of the past to create devotional music for his own time. His Requiem of 1936 uses themes from Norwegian folk song in ‘classically’ conceived music with Romantic harmonies and emotional thrust. The results are troubled: the folk tunes lose all sense of individualism and improvisatory freedom when thrust into fugues and the like, while Islandsmoen’s musical structures, despite some moments of brilliance, feel like high-scoring compositional exercises.
The Performance: Two fine ensembles are on hand to play and sing: the agile Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra and the normally outstanding Norwegian Soloists’ Choir. Neither seem particularly inspired by this music, and you can’t help but wish conductor Terje Boye Hansen had varied the experience by exploring a wider range of textures and volumes.
The Verdict: Islandsmoen’s Requiem must have felt colourful, exciting and empowering to those church musicians raised on traditionally melancholic and plaintive Norwegian hymnody. But to 21st-century ears it sounds mannered, bloated and seriously deficient in the melody department.
Want More? Alsoon2L(2L-073-SACD), Strid by the Oslo Chamber Choir combines indigenous Norwegian folk song with sacred music by Bruckner, Tchaikovsky and Grieg. It’s utterly spellbinding.