WORKS: St Matthew Passion
PERFORMER: Marianne Hirsti (soprano), Marianne E Andersen (mezzo-soprano), Robin Blaze (countertenor), Joseph Cornwell, Ian Lyon, Daniel Norman, Ian Partridge (tenor), Colin Campbell (baritone), Adrian Peacock, Njål Sparbo (bass); Oslo Cathedral Choir/Terje Kvam
CATALOGUE NO: ACD 4994
No need for self-reproach if the name of Trond HF Kverno is unknown to you. Born in 1945, a hymn-writer, an organist and ordained deacon, he’s a leading light in contemporary Norwegian church music, and so a natural perimeter divides his activities from the wider sphere. None the less, as a musician speaking from a country that clearly takes its own traditions of religious music seriously, he’s worthy of note in those parts of the world that do likewise. In Germany, Great Britain and North America this recording of his unaccompanied St Matthew Passion of 1986 should reach out to a discerning audience.
If you’re tempted, first try revisiting that benchmark of a cappella settings: the St Matthew Passion of Heinrich Schütz. Comparisons between the two are not unflattering to the Scandinavian, whose skilful use of double choir sustains a variety of means over some 90 minutes of music. The diversity is not only of texture. Kverno’s comment that his work lies between Romanesque and Gothic applies to its sentiment, not its style. His language is broadly tonal and accessible, and moves with ease from bare, declamatory lines and plangent tritonal choruses to quiet, folk-like settings of telling intimacy.
It sounds finely written for voices, too, and the clarity of diction achieved by the Oslo Cathedral Choir and soloists (five each for the Vox evangelistae and Vox Christi, including several British names) is exemplary, helped by a close yet never intrusive recording that preserves a sense of spaciousness without loss of detail. Nicholas Williams