Trachea from 2L and Norway’s Schola Cantorum

With Trachea, the latest superb recording from Norwegian label 2L, label founder and recording engineer Morten Lindberg continues his commitment to contemporary music. Here, working with Schola Cantorum, Norway’s well-tuned 55-year old chamber choir, under the leadership of Tone Bianca Sparre Dahl, Lindberg scores big with six fascinating and musically accessible choral compositions, all but one of which were written in the last five years.

The opening track, “Snilla Patea” (2016) by Bjørn Kåre Odde (b.1990), begins with what sounds like a medieval Norwegian folk song instrumental. Soon the voices of Schola Cantorum enter, the high sopranos soaring with early-music purity over Odde’s fiddle. Then the men surface, singing a melody intended to evoke the basic emotions of melancholy and freedom inherent to Norwegian folk music. For music lovers put off by “modern music,” the archetypal familiarity of this track’s harmonies, transposed to a thoroughly modern context, is reassuring.

After we’ve been softened up, as it were, “Trachea” (2018) by Martin Ødegaard (b. 1983) takes us on a very different journey—inside a windpipe. This time, a double choir intersperses breathy and even guttural sounds with louder extended vowels. Thanks to the recording’s high sampling rate—I auditioned it in 24/44.1 MQA which, when unfolded and rendered, played at 24/352.8—the sonic expanse is huge. Enhancing the sensation of openness are four horns, played by Marie Solum Gran, Niklas Sebastian Grenvik, Daniel Weiseth Kjellesvik, and Julius Pranevičius, which play off and around the voices. Visual, sensual, and cosmic by turn, this performance will instill a sense of wonder in many a listener.

I wish an English translation of “Alt I Universet” (Everything in the universe, 1988), the poem by Stein Mehren to which 2L favorite Ståle Kleiberg (b. 1958) devotes more than 5 1/2 minutes of music, were available. Given that it isn’t, I’ll just say that it melds Kleiberg’s warm and evocative harmonies with words that address humankind’s freedom to choose change and be changed in turn.

Kleiberg is hardly the only composer on the program who addresses the spiritual choices facing humankind. Karin Rehnqvist (b. 1957) devotes nine minutes to the words “When I close my eyes, I dream of peace” (2016), setting them first in English and then in twelve other languages. For each language, she chooses suitable music (e.g., an Arabic scale for the Arabic, and classic Russian emotionalism for the Russian words). Her goal is to express the desire for peace that she believes most humans share.

The spiritual—this time the Christian variety of same—comes to the fore twice more on the recording. The first visitation arrives via Bjørn Morten Christophersen’s (b. 1976) “Oak and Mayfly” (2014), whose harmonic mysteries, inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, help convey the atmosphere surrounding the birth of Jesus. The program ends with Frøy Aagre’s (b. 1977) “Gloria” (2014) (as in Gloria in excelsis Deo—Glory to God on high)—a setting of the words the angels purportedly sang to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. The echo created by Aagre’s haunting soprano saxophone adds to the sense of spiritual exaltation.

Until 2L gets its own webstore going, Trachea is available in download formats ranging from MP3 to stereo DXD, stereo and multichannel DSD256, and MQA . When it arrives in July, the physical package will offer many of these formats. Given Lindberg’s skill as a recordist, higher resolutions are likely to get you closer to the real thing.

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