Vita Nuova

The title of the CD was inspired by a poem written by Pär Lagerkvist. He in turn had borrowed it from Dante.
Gunnar de Frumerie, Paula af Malmborg Ward, Sven-Erik Bäck, Lars Edlund and Bengt Hambraeus - this is a treasure chest containing some of the finest choral pieces created. It's a must have for the keen choir lover.

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Vita Nuova, the ninth commercial release by the Erik Westberg Vocal Ensemble, is billed as “a tribute to nature, to divine and worldly love.” Given that a significant proportion of choral music deals with either the natural world, worship of the divine, or human love, it may be a stretch to say that this album thematically unified, The recording achieves coherence, instead, as a captivating collection of music by twentieth- and twenty-first-century Swedish composers, well selected and brilliantly performed.

Under Westberg’s leadership, the chorus, made up of professional and semi-professional singers from Northern Sweden and Finland, sings with a impressive combination of precision and expressivity. Each section, and the ensemble as a whole, has a unified approach to vocal production, with a clear, focused sound that still has room for some warmth and flexibility. The sixteen-voice group can achieve perfectly blended unison/octave singing, but also offers individuality during eight- and sixteen-part divisi and solo passages. All seven of the pieces on the disque merit attentive listening, but a few stand out as particular highlights.

Lars Edlund may be most familiar to American musicians as the author/composer of “Modus Novus”, the atonal sight singing handbook, but his “Två dikter” is a model of complementary contrasts. The first movement, “Förvandlingar i Vintervatten”, opens with a crashing piano introduction; the instrument stays semi-independent from the highly dissonant, fiercely sung choral parts, vividly depicting the collision between the human and natural worlds described in the poem. The second and final movement, “Metamorfoser vid Siljan”, retains the complex tonal language of the first, but instead paints a serene, shimmering scene, with beautiful placid singing creating a real sense of atmosphere.

At the heart of the album is the world-premiere recording of Paula of Malmborg Ward´s “Vidder”, one around forty composition commissioned by the ensemble over its twenty- three-year history. A three-movement work for mixed voices and single percissionist, the piece was written in the wake of the death of the composer’s mother, and addresses questions of life, death, and love through the poetry of the Sami-Finnish artist Mils-Aslak Valkeapää. Each section has its own musical language and texture, but the piece is unified by the composer’s intense engagement with the form and imagery if the poetry, her reimagining it the yoik (a style of traditional Sami song), and the highly effective written for voice and percussion.

The final track, “Motetum Archangeli Michaelis”, is a barnburner by Bengt Hambraeus, probably best known as a pioneering organist-composer. No wonder; then, that this blazing setting of an Apocalyptic, full of modernist vocal effects, is punctuated by bone-rattling organ blasts. This album demands close attention–background music it is not – but will be a most welcome addition to the collection of any and all fans of thorny modern/postmodern Scandinavian music.
Choral Journal, USA