SANDSTRÖM Nordic Mass
For the musically curious with time on their hands, as well as a penchant for superb a cappella singing, this monumental celebration of Nordic ‘natural phenomena’ should prove an intriguing and highly satisfying acquisition.
The Nordic Mass was commissioned by the Bergen International Festival. Its secular text is drawn from various poetry collections by the Nobel Laureate Tomas Tranströmer (b1931), published between 1954 and 1996, and set to music by his fellow Swede, Sven-David Sandström (b1942), a prolific choral composer. Although its 25 sections follow the structure of the Mass, the libretto reflects the life experiences of modern mankind. Thus ‘The Journey’ (tr 8) depicts a vocal representation of a journey on an underground railway and ‘Espresso’ (tr 11) has a delicious, Ravel-like bouncing energy about it. The ‘Storm’ movement (tr 3) is probably the most extrovert moment on the disc, which is considerably emboldened by the virtuoso playing of the Copenhagen Philharmonic’s solo cellist, Toke Møldrup, who, in providing an extra timbral voice, ramps up the emotional intensity, especially when he ascends towards those giddying Protecting Veil altitudes. At other times he acts as the protagonist, and for five minutes takes centre stage for his solo ‘Ragas and Raginis’.
Mogens Dahl’s eponymous 18-strong chamber choir (founded in 2005 and based in Copenhagen) copes with every technical challenge of this fantastically difficult music. Sandström stretches every vocal part with his luscious harmonies, throwing in clusters, hissing, glissandos and bell-like harmonics for good measure. Such vocal dexterity is truly astonishing and well worth exploring and relishing.