Classical Music Review: New Releases

Per Nørgård · Works for Choir.  Singe die Gärten, mein Herz1; Maya danser; Winter Hymn; Three Angus Dei Motets; Drømmersange; Four Latin Motets; I Hear the Rain; Zwei Wölfli-Lieder. Vocal Group Ars Nova; 1The Danish Chamber Players; Tamás Vetö, conductor. DaCapo 8.224115 (69’33).

These are amongst the loveliest contemporary works for choir I have heard.  They range from Singe die Gärten, a lightly scored setting of Rilke that combines the tintinnabulation of natural harmonics with chromatic glissandi, to I Hear the Rain, an evocation of nature, inspired by the low roar of the surf on an Indian Ocean beach.  The latter features a drone on low G in the basses while the other voices gently rise and fall in volume.  Accompanying this is a quiet, almost random sounding percussion.  Winter Hymn has the contrapuntal feel of a Renaissance motet combined with the a very contemporary sense of consonance and dissonance.  Somehow the work avoids a sense of pastiche.

Most of the works here are based on what Nørgård calls the “infinity series,” a compositional technique for managing musical motion.  Around 1980, inspired by the work of outsider artist Adolf Wölfli, Nørgård began employing a more fragmented and spontaneous style of composition.  To my ears, the change signals a progression rather than a break with his earlier work.  The present program ends with two lyrics of Wölfli, set by Nørgård in 1980.  The music admirably captures the schizophrenia of the words:

Hallelujah, the Lord’s gone mad:
The uppity girls are all bent and sad.
Damned if I’ll offer Old Nick a hand:
God save and bless the Fatherland!

And when your days on earth are done
You won’t be missed by anyone.
Then loud and clear to the clouds I’ll yell:
I loved you more than words can tell.

The singing of the Vocal Group Ars Nova sounds idiomatic and unforced.  The recorded sound is excellent.
Tony Gualtieri
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