Review by: David Vernier
Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 10
If you’re good at deciphering the somewhat abstract depiction of the Madonna and child on the disc’s cover, and if you happen to know that “fryd” is a Norwegian word that means “joy” in English, you may (correctly) conclude that this is a disc of Norwegian Christmas music. Otherwise you have to squint (preferably in a strong light) to read the extremely eye-unfriendly type (in English and Norwegian) on the back cover that gives a general description of the program: a “tribute to the Norwegian maternal figure who each year conjures up Christmas for the children through all kinds of Christmas preparations.” Okay. And yet, we still know relatively nothing about the actual musical content.
The point is, if you’re looking to market this recording to a local or regional audience, fine; but if you’re looking at a much broader universe of prospective listeners, it’s a problem, because many people likely to really enjoy this disc will not ever get the chance. And listeners who enjoy choral music, Christmas or otherwise, will absolutely enjoy this, fully for the exceptional singing by a world-class women’s ensemble and for the high quality of the music.
Most of the music consists of expertly written arrangements of Norwegian songs and original pieces by Norwegian composers–including Kim André Arnesen, Ola Gjeilo, Frank Havrøy–and for most listeners none of it (with two notable exceptions) will conjure familiar connections to the sounds, images, or experiences of Christmas. But amazingly, happily, it doesn’t really matter, because as soon as you know what the songs are about, the music and the lovely sound of it confirms its inspiration and purpose. One especially pertinent example is “O jul med din glede”, a lively, colorful song traditionally sung by children, joining hands and “walking around the Christmas tree”.
The two exceptions mentioned above: a rendition of “Silent Night” with Norwegian text (“sung in most Christmas concerts in Norway”) and a beautiful arrangement (“with new Norwegian lyrics”) of Max Reger’s well-loved Maria Wiegenlied. Other highlights are Gjeilo’s powerful and oft-performed Northern Lights and a very engaging Sancta Maria by Havrøy and similarly memorable setting of Ave Regina Caelorum by Arnesen. The rest of the program is made up of titles such as “Sov, sov liten gut”, “Det lyser i stille grender”, and “I denne søte juletid”. Some have brief descriptions of the song’s meaning; only a few have translations of any kind. In fact, as is usual with this audiophile label, there is far more information regarding the technical details of the recording than about the music and performers. The entire liner booklet is printed in a format that can only have been designed to ensure that the text wouldn’t actually be read.
And yet, there’s something truly compelling–magical, mystical, whatever you want to call it–about this music and the singing–at once refined and polished, and occasionally colored with folk-style sounds and techniques–that will keep you listening, no matter the occasion or time of year. (The package also includes a Blu-ray Disc.) Recommended.
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Recording Details:Album Title: FRYD
Cantus, Tove Ramlo-Ystad
- 2L - 158