Classic Music -
It's been a long time since Christmas, but should it be celebrated properly — as the moral in Dickens A Christmas Carol tells us. The spirit of the festival should not be limited to the short twelve days or to the weeks leading up to it. Winter in the Nordics lasts well past our equinox, so the theme of Ljos, which is missing in this time, is equally relevant in January, February, and March as in December.
Fauna Vocal Quintet is a beautifully balanced ensemble, which really makes beautiful and actualized performances of these hymns and songs. Some old ones. Some new ones. All Norwegian. For a stranger, from a somewhat warmer, more southwest climate, these melodies cling to the border of something familiar and are active at any time of the year.
The Fauna Vocal Quintet consists of Christina Thingvold, Silje Worquenesh Østby Kleiven, Gudrun Emilie Goffeng, Camilla Maria Bjørandreassen, and Beate Børli Løkken. Here they have been given a fantastic recording by Morten Lindberg and Beatrice Johannessen at 2L Music. A 5-Star album.
Let's play a musical game using logic. I think that 2L Recordings in Norway puts out some of the best-sounding recordings available, something that regular readers of my blog will know all too well. I also think that 2L's choral recordings are my favorite within the scope of their vast catalog. And I think that Ljos, the latest voice recording, is their best yet.
Suffice it to say, this is one special recording.
I love 2L's choral releases because of what they are -- a mass of voices recorded in a huge church somewhere in Scandinavia. You can hear all the details in these recordings that would register if you were actually there in person, the separation between the massed voice sound, the rise of individual voices, and the way those voices travel throughout the big room and bounce off all the walls, rafters, and pews. Ljos is a tad different from those releases, mostly since this is performed by the Fauna Vokalkvintett. If you say that last word over and over, you'll realize that there are only five voices here and that shifts the dynamics of the recording so that you'll focus on different things this time around.
First of all, the five singers -- Christina Thingvold, Silje Worquenesh Ostby Kleiven, Gudrun Emilie Goffeng, Camilla Marie Bjork Andreassen and Beate Borli Lokken--are standing in a circle when they perform, with the microphones situated above their heads. This placement results in a recording where you can clearly see where each woman is standing in relation to the others. That means you'll be able to "see" the distances between the singers as well as their distance from you. If your sound system is up to it, the realism will be eerie.
Ljos celebrates the holidays, which means I got my hands on it a little too late, but that doesn't matter. This is wintry music, as is typical for 2L, and it's still very much winter outside. "Autumn and winter bring months of cold and darkness to the North. This is why we have always so warmly embraced the Christmas season in our part of the world." That sentiment fuels the beauty of these Norwegian Christmas songs, which are mostly unknown to me. They have wonderful titles such as "I Am So Glad Each Christmas Eve," "The Most Radiant Rose" and "The Mound-Goblin," and that helps to push the celebration past the New Year and out toward the spring. It's a warm, wonderful feeling.
If I had to pinpoint what makes this album so astonishing, it's the fact that this quintet is small enough so that you can hear the vocalizations in their naked wonder. This isn't an ocean of voices washing over you, but five humans with very tangible presences forming words with their lips and their tongues. It's a natural sound, just as natural as if these women were standing in front of you and talking to you. That said, the sound they make as a group is so joyous and beautiful that you begin to love the songs themselves, as unfamiliar as they may be, and perhaps one day these melodies will be a permanent fixture in your home during the holidays. That's what I'm thinking, anyway. Highly recommended, of course.