A telling contemporary engagement with archetypes: Bent Sørensen – Snowbells

by 5:4

What leaps out immediately on Snowbells, a new collection of choral works by Bent Sørensen, and constantly throughout, is the composer’s deep, thoughtful engagement with intense emotion, particularly the themes of life, love and death. Words, and the layers of connotation and meaning encapsulated within them, are clearly not just important to Sørensen, they’re everything. The ways in which he expresses them involve a telling contemporary engagement with archetypes, sounding at once embedded in history—not just of music, but of humanity itself—yet also squarely at the forefront of present-day thought and feeling. Sørensen frequently draws on the language and demeanour of traditional music in his settings, four-square structures articulated through rich consonance, as in Sneeklokken (‘snowbell’) for solo voice and the short choral hymn Havet står så blankt og stille (‘The sea stands so still and shining’), the pair of works that book-end the disc. Some like to describe this kind of simplicity with words like ‘courageous’ or even ‘defiant’; Sørensen just sounds authentic, and it’s an authenticity that proves increasingly moving as he leads us into more obviously modern soundworlds. The Snowbells cycle (originally composed as part of an art installation) utilises the melody from its solo precedent as both a starting point and something of a refrain, now exploring each stanza separately. Familiarity permeates its every moment, though often through a filter of smears and smudges; and a pair of the movements where Sørensen ignores text and switches to soft humming is one of the album’s most exquisite episodes, as though the choir were inwardly ruminating on the music in an act of communal contemplation. Sørensen triumphs greatest when the text is emotionally raw, as in the first of the 3 Motets where the singers cluster together for moral support in the face of their own evaporation, and the hugely impressive Lacrimosa, where lamentation is so reinforced that the text’s solitary mention of “judgement” becomes, as it should, an agonising, horrendous intrusion into something that should be allowed simply to grieve. But even at the other end of the spectrum, Sørensen’s take on the Benedictus thankfully possesses nothing of the generic Anglican glee to which these words are routinely subjected; here, the words are like objects being turned over and examined in one’s hands, a meditative lingering that makes the subsequent ‘Osanna’ all the more wonderful, genuinely caught up in rapture. A marvellous collection of works that sit supremely well together, given a beautifully sensitive treatment by the Danish National Vocal Ensemble directed by Paul Hillier. [DaCapo]

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