Beast Sampler was well received at last year’s Proms and you can hear in its glacial coolness and spatial breadth why it might have stilled a hot Royal Albert Hall. That night it shared the bill with Sibelius’s Tapiola, and there are certain parallels; Hillborg’s piece – sometimes without pitch, sometimes catching tonality’s fleeting glance – suggests an animalistic terror lurking inside its own forest of notes. Cold Heat is a sort of sonic ice mountain with an inner glow. But given all the breadth either side, I found the limited scope of its agitated central section ill-fitting.
In Cold Heat we catch a glimpse of the heaving oceanic sonorities of Sirens. To my ears Hillborg is at his best when writing for voices and there are plenty of them here: two sopranos attempting to manipulate Ulysses with increasing desperation (the text is Hillborg’s own) and a choir merged with the large orchestra. Hillborg can really yank you into the narrative with his text-setting (notably the solo entry on ‘This way…’) and there are copious moments in the ensuing dreamscape that linger in the mind, not least the sirens’ sensual promise that ‘we will take you to the crack between our worlds’, orchestra twisting like metal underneath (I easily deciphered that text without the booklet).
Hillborg’s music is taken to its own cosmic heights by that text but there are shades of John Luther Adams here, just as there’s a Baltic whiff to his simple, tonal song ‘O dessa ögon’. Rich, sonorous playing from Oramo’s orchestra under all three conductors, and singing full of purity, accuracy and fresh air above it; both soloists are agile, strong and able to tell a story. But that all comes from what Hillborg writes for them. Sirens should be heard.