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WORKS: Mass for Modern Man
PERFORMER: Mari Eriksmoen (soprano), Johannes Weisser (baritone); Trondheim Choir & Symphony / Eivind Gullberg Jensen
CATALOGUE NO: 2L-136-SABD (hybrid CD/SACD and Blu-ray)


‘Is belief possible for modern man?’ That is the question posed by Norwegian composer Ståle Kleiberg (b1958) in his Mass for Modern Man, premiered two years ago in Trondheim. As with his earlier Requiem – for victims of Nazi persecution (2002), the traditional Latin text of the Mass is intercut with three new poems. In this new work, these are by British writer Jessica Gordon, and are ‘about individuals who have lost existential meaning in their lives’.

The opening Kyrie is more anxious than anguished, the upper strings delineating a restless, wave-like pattern beneath the choir’s insistent textual repetitions. Kleiberg’s idiom is fundamentally tonal – the writing in places recalls Duruflé’s Requiem, buttressed by riper romantic textures. Restlessness also defines ‘Loss of a Homeland: The Refugee’, where the constantly shifting harmonic contours mirror the uprooted meanderings of the heartfelt vocal soloist, baritone Johannes Weisser. The Gloria which follows is understandably tentative in feeling – an ‘unambiguous affirmation’, as Kleiberg puts it, is impossible after a movement describing exile from a homeland.

There is poised, dignified work from soprano soloist Mari Eriksmoen in ‘Loss of Faith and Hope for the Future’, the third Gordon setting. By this stage, however, the listener may well be craving a degree of respite from the predominantly mid-tempo drift of Kleiberg’s music, and its pervasively ruminative, soul-searching demeanour.

Both choir and orchestra give unflaggingly devoted accounts, and 2L’s sound is typically rich and communicative. Whether the Mass itself should need as large a space to reach the ‘hesitant’, ‘in spite of all’ sense of affirmation Kleiberg intends it to ultimately communicate is a different question.


Terry Blain