Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Kammerkoret Aurum's UR on 2L Recordings


It's an unusual name for an album, succinct and majestic and brimming with power. It also reminds me of reading The Guinness Book of World Records when I was young, and giggling at the fact that Ed and Uz, two places in Kentucky, had the shortest names of any cities in the US. Ur is one of those places, surely.

No, it isn't anything this light or whimsical. "Ur is time. Past meets future, young forces are given the chance to carry time forward." So says the liner notes of the latest recording from 2L Recordings in Norway. Ur translates to a great many things in Norwegian--time, origin and even wilderness. This gorgeous album is a collection of works commissioned by the musical community in Trondheim and performed by Kammerkoret Aurum, a chamber choir consisting of 24 singers. Young composers such as Eva Holm Foosnaes (who also conducts the choir and is pictured below), Odd Johan Overoye, Martin Eikeset Koren and Geir Dohlie Gjerdsjo were given minimal guidelines for their compositions, resulting in eight works that explore the many facets of Ur--from psychology and interpersonal relationships to Norwegian folk traditions to the unyielding power of nature on both land and in the sea.

As a result, you get very specific pieces with very specific themes and visuals that can be embraced by the listener. The haunting Three songs to the forest by Foosnaes, for example, describes Norway's close bond to nature through passages titled "Wild bird," "Songs of the forest" and "People of the forest." Overoye's Steinbiten has a similar theme transferred to the ocean to represent three very different marine personalities--the wolffish, the monkfish and the Humpback whale. Just when you sense a common theme to Ur, you'll get Gjerdsjo's three-part meditation on dreams, "Lev var draum" or even Koren's "Tre reiskapar" which celebrates three farming tools--the sledgehammer, the saw and the scythe.

The final piece, Overoye's Breiflabben, is almost a jolt to the senses. It's a rhythmic folk tune with a distinct song structure unlike anything else on the album. With its slow and powerful percussion (Eirik Lauvas on the hand drum), it evokes the same surprising and accessible sounds achieved by last year's Spes, a 2L Recording that introduces the listener to Sami folk music. I'm tempted to learn Norwegian just so I can sing along--luckily the lyrics to the entire album are included in the booklet.

While these themes of time, origin and nature are fleshed out with grace and precision, it's also easy to lose yourself in the sheer beauty of these songs. As with most 2L releases, this one has been recorded in a spacious Norwegian church--this time it's the Hoeggen Church. In other words, you'll be able to pick out individual singers and follow them through the songs, or you can submerge yourself in an ethereal, floating mass of sound. Ur, in short, is so hypnotic that it passes by in an instant like a dream.

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