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Crossing Borders

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Crossing Borders
Gade: Just like the flower in the field fades; Holmboe: Two Border Ballads, Op. 110; Nielsen: Three Motets, Op. 55; Stenhammar: 3 Körvisor; Tjørnhøj: Vox Reportage
Ars Nova Copenhagen/Paul Hillier
Dacapo 6.220626 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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So many vocal tics and tricks are used in the making of Danish composer Line Tjørnhøj’s Vox Reportage that it can seem uncomfortably close to a virtuoso demonstration of the manifold noises top chamber choirs are capable of creating nowadays. Breathy glissandos evoke the soughing of the breeze in ‘Wind’, the opening movement setting words by Elias Canetti. A clamour of staccato consonants mimic the information babble in ‘Manning’, whose text draws on a Guardian article about the WikiLeaking American soldier Chelsea Manning. The halting Sprechgesang of ‘Religions of Lament’ (Canetti again) suggests a certain queasiness produced by the ‘wounds and blood’ associated with Christian imagery.

Tjørnhøj calls the 26 minutes of Vox Reportage ‘an abstract flowering of serious, existential themes inherent in contemporary life,’ and hopes her music brings ‘comfort and healing’. It left me a little unsettled and enervated, partly because this Ars Nova Copenhagen performance is so graphically communicative. The rest of the programme is more straightforwardly enjoyable. Nielsen’s Three Motets take the polyphony of Palestrina as their base ingredient, adding pinches of harmonic adventure and spikiness as seasoning. The Three Choral Songs of Stenhammar combine a sweetly flowing lyricism with flecks of gentle melancholy, while ‘The Wee Wee Man’ from Holmboe’s Two Border Ballads injects an impish element of unexpected humour, with a lusty outburst of tongue trilling included.

Paul Hillier directs alert, scrupulously polished performances, and the church acoustic is excellently harnessed by engineer Preben Iwan, producing sound that is warm yet not over- resonant.

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Terry Blain