February 2008

Nordic Voices
presented by Mooredale Concerts
Anton Kuerti – artistic director
February 3, 2008 Walter Hall Toronto
Brave and Beautiful Sounds from Norway
by Tova G. Kardonne
“Norwegian Medieval Spanish music…so were there Spaniards in Norway or Norwegians in Spain?” My confused concert companion was game for whichever, but I decided that next time, each adjective would get its own explanation. So, here it is: the music was from Medieval Spain, the musicians from Norway. The result was incredible.

The six a cappella voices of Nordic Voices performed a glorious repertoire of sixteenth century religious music in Walter Hall on Sunday February 3rd, interspersed with a couple of twentieth century pieces that included, in some cases, the use of overtones and throat-singing. Yes, one might say the program was diverse. Startling, in fact, but indisputably well chosen.

The first piece, “Reges Terrae” (Pierre de Manchicourt) started small, with a staggered entry of voices, representing the three kings asking, “Where is he who is born a great king, whose star we have seen?” The fugue-like intricacies of the melodic lines was superbly controlled, lending drama to a piece and period whose dominant characteristics are a placid continuity and compositional erudition — always beautiful, but rarely performed with such dynamic delicacy. The length of the lines and the horizontal structure of the harmonies necessitated ridiculous amounts of breath support. The ebb and flow of the uppermost voices, passing off from soprano range to alto to the barely perceptible shift between low alto range and high tenor, over and around down to baritone and back up through the hertz, created the illusion that no one ever breathed. It was a pulsing, just-tempered engine of pleasing euphonies. The third piece, “Laudate Dominum” (de Manchicourt) featured bubbling rhythmic passages that showed off the dexterity of the female voices and allowed the energy climb in preparation for the first modern piece of the afternoon, “Ave Maria Stella,” by Trond Kverno.
Nordic Voices
(photo by Ole Kaland)
The first minor-second dissonance was at once a tonic and an agony, after all that baroque sweetness. Perfectly tuned, this courageously attacked piece did indeed evoke the piercing light of the stars. At times, the lower range seemed a trifle strained, and on a couple of occasions I wasn’t certain whether or not the third of the chord had been ambiguously placed between major and minor by design. Such tension and release, not to mention the driving 5-beat cycle that interjected between more pensive moods left us gasping and exhilarated.

It wasn’t until the end of the second half that the throat singing really took over. At once harshly primal and crystallinely delicate, the audience was captivated and enthralled by the more-than-six-tones emerging from the six throats on stage, split between almost-grunt of the base tone and the bird-like whistlings of the overtones. To manipulate those mysterious noises, and yet to blend with the classical clarity of the group’s more typical repertoire, is a most impressive feat. Nordic Voices are a force to be reckoned with, as much because of their adventurousness and range as because of their specialty and expertise in choral music.

Nordic Voices
Sopranos: Tone Elisabeth Braaten, Ingrid Hanken
Mezzo- Soprano: Ebba Rydh
Tenor: Per Kristian Amundrød
Baritone: Frank Havrøy
Bass: Trond Olav Reinholdtsen


We welcome your comments and feedback
Tova G. Kardonne
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