Friday, December 22, 2017

Ensemble 96's So Is My Love from 2L Recordings

Let me set this up. It's just a couple of days before Christmas, and it's snowing outside. It's really snowing. I know, because I just drove an hour and a half to get here, to the office, and it was an ordeal. Once I settled in I stuck this disc into the CD player, the latest from 2L Recordings in Norway, and to my surprise and delight it's a choral work. Choral recordings from 2L are even a bigger treat than normal since these are the albums where you really hear the big Norwegian churches that usually serve as a venue. The voices rise to the big wooden beams overhead and then blossom and expand in size. At the same time, you can hear each voice in the chorus. You can single one out and follow it all the way through--just like you would if you were actually present at the recording.

Sitting here in this warm room, listening to yet another beautiful recording from 2L, I'm suddenly realizing that I do this every year around this time. There's something about these 2L Recordings that really enhance the idea of winter, of staying inside and keeping warm. So Is My Love is indeed about love and faith, which is appropriate for December the 22nd, and the beauty of that is not lost on me even though I am a heathen. (I always feel compelled to throw that in somewhere.) It's becoming sort of a tradition for me, and I'm usually the last person to observe holiday traditions.

Ensemble 96, a chamber choir of 24 voices, is highly respected throughout Europe and has been nominated for a Grammy or two in the past. I mention this because So Is My Love has also been nominated for a Grammy this year (Best Surround Album). It's not hard to see why. Led by 34-year-old conductor Nina T. Karlsen and periodically augmented by Mari Skeie Ljones' gorgeous violin, the choir delivers their interpretation of choral works by Martin Odegaard, Torbjorn Dyrud, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Jean-Yves Daniel-Lesur and Frank Havroy. It's hard not to be moved by all the sheer beauty in one single disc.

The album's title, according to the liner notes, has dual meanings: "For me, love is like this" and "This is what my beloved is like." These musical selections were chosen because they explore those themes in depth--the differences between love in and of itself, and the very nature of the things that we love. In particular this music describes how prayer can reflect opposites--longing and joy, passion and humor and so on. Many of the pieces here draw inspiration from the Bible, Song of Solomon in particular, but other sources are used such as William Blake's poetry and the music of Thomas Tallis.

It sounds like a deep and heady meditation for the holidays, but it is surprising how light and ethereal it all sounds coming out of the Uranienborg Church in Norway. This definitely music that expresses joy instead of loss--one of the Dyrud pieces is titled "Laughing song"--and as I listen to it and stare out the window at all of the falling snow, I can't help but smile.

Oh, and good luck to 2L's Morten Lindberg at the Grammy Awards!

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