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Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
The words are delivered with care and clarity, while allowing the musicality of the setting to shine through.
Brian Morton, Choir & Organ UK
07 November 2018
4 out of 5 stars
The title refers to a passage of season and the songs are thematically grouped into four seasonal themes, with a cheeringly generous emphasis on Summer. Not many of the songs – or their poetic originals – will be family to a non-Danish audience. Kaj Munk´s Den blå anemone, set by Egil Harder, is an early standout and delivered with bright and you might say springlike energy by the smallish but beautiful balanced choir. Bo Holten knows most of this material intimately, and it shows. The words are delivered with care and clarity, while allowing the musicality of the setting to shine through
Brian Morton, Choir & Organ UK

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
Årshjulets Sangskat
Mikkel Krarup
06 November 2018
“Den Danske Sangskat” -  et forkætret udtryk, som dog her giver så udmærket mening. Det hele startede i begyndelsen af forrige århundrede, takket være Thomas Laub og Carl Nielsen med deres ”En snes danske viser 1915”. Så kom Folkehøjskolens Melodibog i 1922, og så kender vi resten.
Denne nyudgivelse drejer sig mest om danske sange fra første halvdel af det 20. århundrede, men der er også blevet plads til et par nyere. De 28 sange er inddelt årstidsvis, så det er muligt at tage Højskolesangbogen i hånden og følge med teksterne i de respektive afsnit.
Bo Holten står selv for ca. halvdelen af arrangementerne, de øvrige er blandt andet komponisternes egne. De er der alle sammen, sangene, kunne man fristes til at sige, valget er traditionelt og forventeligt. Men det virker rigtigt. ”Den blå anemone”, ”Det er i dag Årshjulets Sangskat
et vejr”, ”Hvor smiler fagert”, ” Jeg ser de bøgelyse øer”, ”Septembers himmel”, ”Det er hvidt herude”, alle er repæsentative for de skiftende årstider, vi nyder godt af i dette land.
Som et lille raffinement giver koret to versioner af ”Der er ingenting i verden så stille som sne”, den velkendt af Povl Hamburger, men også den af Thomas Laub, en smuk og sart lille melodi.
DR VokalEnsemblet byder på vanlig høj kvalitet, både i de sange, som er velegnede til fællessang, og i de mere kunstlede, hvor arrangementerne byder på lækkerier, som få amatørkor ville kunne præstere. Hele udgivelsen er meget ”klassisk”, med en tendens til det lidt for pæne i både de gedigne højskolesangbogs-sange samt i flere af kunstsangene. 
Mikkel Krarup

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
Interview with Bo Holten
KEN MELTZER, Fanfare
31 October 2018
A lovely new disc on the OUR Recordings label features the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, conducted by Bo Holten. The disc comprises a cappella choral arrangements of Danish songs that relate to the various seasons of the year. I had the opportunity to speak with Bo Holten about the new disc, and the rich and fascinating tradition of Danish song.
In your liner notes for 28 Danish Songs, you distinguish the national songs of Denmark from the “natural folksongs” of its neighbors, Norway and Sweden. What are the differences (and simi- larities) between the two types of songs?
Denmark is flat and small. Through the centuries it has been a country with loads of people trav- eling through it. Some stay, some leave their genes, but they all come with their own music. So it is extremely hard to distinguish what really is “Danish music.” In Norway and Sweden, mountainous countries with valley cultures where indigenous peoples stay for centuries in the same places, a strongly individual and profiled music developed and exists to this day. Not so in Denmark, where only a few (but very fine) folksongs have survived (many of them collected by Percy Grainger!), but no instrumental music of mentionable quality.
How do the national songs reflect the music and life of the people of Denmark?
The national songs from the 19th century are typical Romantic songs, very much in the German style (Danes live close to Germany, and German culture has always been a very dominating ele- ment), but the song movement, started by Laub and Nielsen in 1915 (Denmark was neutral during World War I) made a very marked turning point. A completely new style of music was invented based on … God knows what? Out of the blue Thomas Laub and Carl Nielsen wrote these two col- lections, En snes danske viser 1 and 2 (1915–17), 44 songs in all, which gave all the aesthetic fun- damentals for the Højskole song, which culminated in Højskolesangbogens Melodibog (1922). Practically all the songs on this new CD come from this time and these collections, the founding fa- thers of which were Laub, Nielsen, Oluf Ring, and Thorvald Aagaard. The musical style is a strange concoction of many influences, but it seems very natural and simple (in the best meaning of the word). Songs have continually been composed in Denmark in this style, and are widely sung throughout the country. It has to be said that commercial American pop culture also has exerted a strong influence on the production and performance of these songs since the 1970s, but the original style is still used when people sing together in large communities.
What qualities of these songs do you think will appeal even to those not familiar with Denmark’s history and culture?
The melodic strength in the repertoire will always appeal to most music lovers, but the fact that all the texts are in Danish severely hinders these songs from diffusing into other countries. Attempts have recently been made to translate some of the songs and actually sing them in English. To Danish ears this sounds extremely odd, and the translations cannot really recreate the charm and local color of the originals. But good recordings of the repertoire (even if you are hearing the same tune again and again, verse after verse) and subtle shadings between the different verses actually can make a satisfying progression that is immediately comprehensible to foreigners.
I’m sure it must have been difficult to limit the contents of this disc to 28 songs. How did you go about choosing the repertoire?
In the last 20 years I have, along with my vocal ensemble Music Ficta, made more than 15 CDs with at least 300 songs from this repertoire (available on Naxos). I chose to make this present CD a cycle of seasonal songs, picking only the very best plums mostly from the early repertoire before 1950, the songs that are best known and loved in Denmark. It was quite easy to select the mostly sung pieces, and a few not-so-well-known surprises.
28 Danish Songs charts the change of seasons in Denmark, from spring through winter. Does this progression have a particular significance and emotional resonance for the Danish people?
As in most countries outside the tropics, the seasons are a very important cultural element, and
so too in Denmark. We have a very rich treasure of poems and songs touching upon the seasonal changes, triggering some of our finest literary and musical flowers.
The songs included on the OUR Recordings CD feature works by several Danish composers. Most Fanfare readers will be familiar with Carl Nielsen, but I suspect the other composers on the disc will be new to many. Perhaps you could mention a few,  and their contributions to the fabric   of Danish music.
Thomas Laub, an organist and hymn reformer, was the instigator of this repertoire. In 1914 he convinced Carl Nielsen, then 50 years of age, that it was worthwhile writing simple songs for all peo- ple to sing. Nielsen disciples, such as Ring and Aagaard, both obsessed by the musical “bringing up” of normal Danes, are crucial in this connection. Many symphonic composers later contributed to this genre, but after 1960 the avant-garde composers seem not to have been interested in this style. Nonetheless many composers (not avant-garde) like Otto Mortensen and Sv. S. Schultz have con- tributed very valuable things.
The vocalists on this disc are members of the DR VokalEnsemblet (Danish National Vocal Ensemble), a remarkable group of singers. Tell us a bit about the history of this ensemble, and about the members it comprises.
The DR VE is a young group, only 10 years old, the result of a reformation and diminishing of the former Radio Choir, in order to make the group be able to tackle early music as well as contem- porary styles. In actual fact this group is asked to sing in all possible styles, including pop music, which they do with great efficiency and accuracy. An excellent group!
Are there any characteristics that distinguish the vocalism of Danish singers, both solo and   in ensemble?
Not really. The DR VE also has many foreigners (mostly other Scandinavians) that quickly must attune themselves to things like the Danish Højskole style. It has been mentioned that Scandinavian choral sound is softer and warmer than American, Polish, or Spanish choral groups. I believe it has a lot to do with the actual situation, the conductor, the acoustics, etc. Myth easily arises in this field.
You prepared several of the beautiful song arrangements for this CD. Did you create these ar- rangements with the talents of the DR VokalEnsemblet in mind?
No. My arrangements were made previously for my recordings with Musica Ficta.
While listening to this recording, I was struck by the marvelous concert acoustic. The recording was made in the Koncertkirken in Copenhagen. Tell us a bit about that concert hall, and what qual- ities made it appropriate for this recording.
Koncertkirken is a fine church (built c. 1900) which was secularized about 10 years ago. The wonderful room is now often used for concerts and recordings (it has very quiet surroundings). It is situated in the middle of Nørrebro, a part of Copenhagen inhabited by immigrants and Danes, finely mixed in a colorful neighborhood!
I suspect many people will share my positive reactions to this recording, and will want to explore more of Denmark’s rich heritage of vocal music. Do you have some suggestions for other repertoire? There are, as mentioned, many recordings available, but for obvious reasons mentioned earlier,
they sadly never travel outside the country. I hope this recording might contribute to breaking the ice for this repertoire internationally.
Your musical career encompasses conducting, composing, and arranging. What projects are on the horizon for you?
Right now I am finishing my ninth opera, Schlagt sie tot, which is about Luther and the Reformation—how Europe was split into two, how religious conflict resulted in 150 years of wars in Europe, what charismatic but erratic spiritual and political leaders might lead to, and how social revolution can be bound up with religion, struggles for power, greed, violence, and the sincere wish to better the world. All the music is based on Luther’s own hymn tunes, although this is barely au- dible. The 160-minute opera for full forces has its premiere at Malmö Opera in May 2019.
 
KEN MELTZER, Fanfare

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
Enthusiastically recommended.
Ken Meltzer, Fanfare USA
31 October 2018
One of my great joys in reviewing recordings for Fanfare is the welcome opportunity to listen to repertoire and/or interpreters I might otherwise never have encountered. Such is the case with The Seasons: 28 Danish Songs, a new release on the OUR Recordings label. The disc comprises a series of songs, mostly from the first half of the 20th century, by various Danish composers. The songs, vi- gnettes of man’s relationship to nature, are divided into the four seasons, which, like Vivaldi’s Le quattro stagioni, progress from spring through winter. The spring portion encompasses seven songs, and summer, nine. The remaining two seasons are accorded six songs apiece. Nature is celebrated throughout this series, with the sea playing a prominent role, as of course, does snow, both in winter and the close of spring. In his liner notes for this release, conductor Bo Holten notes that because of Denmark’s unsettled history during the 19th century, the country lacks the kind of rich folk song tra- dition of its neighbors, Norway and Sweden. Instead, Danish composers wrote a plethora of “nation- al songs” between 1830 and 1960. Carl Nielsen is represented by three songs, alongside the works of other, less famous (at least internationally) Danish composers. However the Danish songs are characterized, their subject matter, traditional tonal foundation, and straightforward melodies make them close cousins of the folk idiom. The Danish songs on this recording are strophic, and tend to focus on a single subject and/or mood. Here, the songs are presented in a cappella arrangements for mixed chorus. And so, we do not have the kind additional narrative perspective provided, for exam- ple, by the piano accompanist in Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin.
I found these songs a delight from start to finish. No doubt, the music itself must take the lion’s share of the credit. But the performances themselves present this music in a most favorable light. 13 of the arrangements are by the conductor on this disc, Bo Holten, an accomplished composer in his own right. For the most part, the arrangements feature a harmonized single vocal line, showcasing the text, and the blended sound of the mixed chorus. (The other arrangements, by various individu- als, take a similar approach.) According to the liner notes, the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, a chamber chorus of 18 members, “is internationally known for its pure, transparent Nordic sound.” Vibrato is applied sparingly (the two soprano solos, in En yndig og frydefuld sommertid and Spurven sidder stum bag qvist, have a decidedly androgynous quality). Such an approach has the potential to make lapses of intonation glaringly apparent, but these artists are consistently spot-on. Under Bo Holten’s direction, the ensemble’s remarkable balance and blending of the voice groups, along with its glowing sonority, are impressive, often breathtaking. The recording, made in Copenhagen’s Koncertkirken, offers an ideal blend of a warm (but not overly resonant) acoustic, vocal and textual detail, and a realistic concert hall perspective. The CD booklet includes essays and artist bios in Danish and English. The original Danish song texts are included, with the English translations ac- cessible via the OUR Recordings website. Illustrations from Flora Danica, Denmark’s comprehen- sive floral atlas, are a fetching complement to the musical proceedings. This is lovely music, beau- tifully and immaculately performed, with first-class production values all around. I’m delighted this disc crossed my path, and I suspect you will be similarly persuaded. Enthusiastically recommended. 
Ken Meltzer, Fanfare USA

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
In short, this is a delightful recording.
Henry Fogel, Fanfare
06 October 2018
There is a strong choral tradition throughout Scandinavia, and this disc is one more representation of that. Årstiderne translates as “The Seasons,” and as is so frequently the case with Scandinavian songs, the subject here is almost exclusively the wonders of nature. Most of these songs are by composers likely to be unknown to even most Fanfare readers, though there are a handful of truly lovely ones by Carl Nielsen. Other composers who stand out include Henrik Rung, Oluf Ring, and Thomas Laub. But the truth is that these songs are all lovely. For the most part they are gentle, lyrical statements with titles such as “Wandering in the Forest,” “Now Leaves Are Glowing in the Groves,” “The Blue Anemone,” and “Awakening (for all the little flowers).”
                      Nothing deeply probing is to be found here, but if there is a place in your musical life for beauty of a mainly mellow sort, this disc provides it. While the booklet only includes Danish texts (along with helpful bi-lingual notes), complete side-by-side Danish-English texts can be downloaded from www.ourrecordings.com. The chorus sings with impeccable intonation and blend, and with a strong sense of involvement. The recorded sound is fairly spacious and distant, assuring that no single voice stands out from that blend. In short, this is a delightful recording.
Henry Fogel, Fanfare

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
best of all, the music and performances are gorgeous – lovely late-night listening.
Michael Wilkinson, MusicWeb International
05 October 2018
There are three good reasons for buying this CD: it is a fascinating introduction to an important aspect of Danish music; it shows how the choral music of Nielsen belongs within a significant tradition; best of all, the music and performances are gorgeous – lovely late-night listening.

Denmark has relatively few old folk songs, but part-singing has always been popular, both in public performance and in domestic settings. The country in its modern form came into existence in 1849; Danish nationalism led to the peaceful formation of a constitutional monarchy, though in 1864, Schleswig and Holstein were ceded to Prussia, following Denmark’s military defeat. The songs produced between 1830 and 1960, often nationalistic and patriotic, reflected delight in the Danish landscape. Carl Nielsen was an important part of the movement, as his various songs attest. Three are found on the current recording. Hvor sødt i sommer-aftenstunden is perhaps the most striking in its austere beauty.  Those interested in more of his songs might profitably explore Da Capo 8.226112, a collection of some of his songs – of more than three hundred – sung by Danish National Choirs, including the National Vocal Ensemble, which I chose as a Recording of the Month in 2016 (review). The Nielsen songs here are delightful, but companion pieces are not overshadowed.

The songs across the collection, divided by season, are frequently austere in style – emotions are not worn on the sleeve in an excess of sentiment. Each is very brief. They are more powerful for such simplicity. Many of the songs are homophonic, with repeated verses. Where there is polyphony, it is applied with a light touch. Take for example En yndig og frydefuld sommertid (Kærlighedrosen), with a beautiful soprano solo by Malene Nordtrop – who sings also Spurven sidder stum bag kvist in the Winter section. The simplicity and innocence of diction is deeply moving.

Bo Holten is a specialist in this repertoire: the Danish Vocal Ensemble are superb collaborators. The nineteen voices confidently remain light-hued and deeply sensitive, able to provide subtle variety without drawing attention to their artfulness.

Texts are provided in Danish; translations are available from the company’s website. 
Michael Wilkinson, MusicWeb International

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
"Som Perler på en snor" 5 stars
Peter Dürrfeld, Kristeligt Dagblad
01 October 2018
5 stars
”Som perler på en snor”
I denne måned runder komponisten, korspecialisten og dirigenten Bo Holten70 år. Han har unægtelig mange bedrifter på sit cv, i flæng kan nævnes operaerne ”Gesualdo” (der netop er udkommet på dvd) og ”Livlægens besøg” fra 2008, der omhandler det dramatiske hændelsesforløb i Struense-perioden omkring 1700.
Denne runde fødselsdag bliver blandt andet markeret med en koncert dagen forinden, søndag den 21. oktober klokken 16 i Koncertkirken på Nørrebro, hvor Bo Holten dirigerer koret Musica Ficta i en række egne værker.
Har man ikke mulighed for at tage til Blågårds Plads den dag, kan man i stedet glæde sig over en cd med titlen ”Årstiderne”, som for nylig er udsendt af det eminente pladeselskab OUR Recordings.
Her dirigerer Bo Holten DR VokalEnsemblet i hele 28 danske sange med en samlet spilletid på cirka 68 minutter.
Man vil forstå, at sangene kommer som perler på en snor, og at det ikke her er muligt at nævne hver eneste perle i de fire årstider.
Men et par eksempler vil give en idé om udvalgets beskaffenhed. Blandt forårssangene kan nævnes ”Nu lyser løv i lunde” og ”Den blå anemone”, mens sommeren er repræsenteret med hel ni sange, heriblandt ” Jeg ser de bøgelyse øer” og ”Danmark nu blunder den lyse nat”.
Efterårsstemninger indfinder sig markant med titler som ”Blæsten går frisk over Limfjorden vande” og ”Septembers himmel er så blå”, og også vinteren byder på gamle kendinge som ”Der er ingenting i verden så stille som sne” og ”Sneflokke kommer vrimlende”.
Kort sagt et fyldigt og håndplukket udvalg fra den danske sangskat, serveret af et veloplagt kor og en mester i netop det repertoire, fornemt indspillet i Koncertkirken i februar i år og med alle tekster gengivet i det smukke teksthæfte.
Det sidste er værd at hæfte sig ved, al den stund en række af Danmarks ypperligste digtere er repræsenteret.
Peter Dürrfeld, Kristeligt Dagblad

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
9/9/9: Für den unbefangenen deutschen Hörer klingen diese Gesänge wie echte Volkslieder
Ekkehard Pluta, Klassik Heute
14 September 2018
Anders als Norwegen oder Schweden hat Dänemark keine eigene Volksliedtradition und diesem Mangel wurde in der ersten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts durch die Produktion von nationalen Gesängen abgeholfen, die an deren Stelle traten, zum Schulkanon gehörten und durchaus eine gewisse Popularität erlangten. Die Autoren und Komponisten sind außerhalb Dänemarks kaum bekannt geworden, sieht man einmal von der zentralen Figur Carl Nielsen ab.
Michala Petris Label OUR Recordings hat 28 dieser Lieder unter dem Titel “Årstiderne” (Jahreszeiten) zusammengestellt und durch das international renommierte 18köpfige Vokal-Ensemble des Dänischen Rundfunks einspielen lassen. Für den unbefangenen deutschen Hörer klingen diese Gesänge wie echte Volkslieder, wobei durch den vierstimmigen a-cappella-Gesang, aus dem die Sopran- und Bassstimmen herausragen, denen sich die in einer Mittellage notierten Alt- und Tenorstimmen harmonisch anschmiegen, gelegentlich eine beinahe sakrale Atmosphäre einstellt, vor allem bei den Winterliedern. Doch ein heiter-beschwingter, fast tänzerischer Duktus herrscht vor.
In der Kopenhagener Koncertkirken aufgenommen, deren nur leichter Nachhall der Transparenz des Vortrags keinen Abbruch tut, kommen die stimmlichen Qualitäten des Ensembles, das aus lauter Solisten zu bestehen scheint, die sich zu einem homogenen Gesamtklang verbinden, gut zur Geltung. Der Chorleiter Bo Holten hält sie zudem zu einem rhythmisch pointierten Singen an.
Diese Lieder gehen auch dem deutschen Hörer sehr gefällig ins Ohr. Da die gesungenen Texte im Booklet nur auf dänisch abgedruckt sind, muß er sich allerdings die Mühe machen, die englische Übersetzung im Internet (unter http://www.ourrecordings.com/) abzurufen.
Ekkehard Pluta, Klassik Heute

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Bo Holten
Årstiderne
28 danske sange
This ensemble´s lightness of touch and exquisite detail are revealed best in Laub´s “Stille, Hjerte, sol går ned”
Andrew Mellor, Gramophone
03 September 2018
Gramophone (UK)
Nordic humility combined with Danish plain speaking to take the country´s unique song tradition in a new direction in the first decades of the 20th century. The organist and composer Thomas Laub, was rewriting the country´s hymnbook along rigorous anti-Romantic lines and developing a new form of secular song that resonated with the emerging Højskole movement. Laub had an ally in Carl Nielsen, whose desire to move Denmark away from German “gravy and grease” pervaded community song as much as symphonies. Plenty of other composers joined him.
Bo Holten´s work tending this tradition and its various tributaries has made him something of a national treasure. Here he presents a selection of 28 songs sifted along seasonal lines. A good example of Laub´s principles at work in Nielsen´s music is found in the ode to the sun “Hvor sødt i sommer-aftenstunden” (Text by Adam Oehlenschläger) with its austere but beautiful harmonies.
Often the songs are homophonic with repeated verses, but as in Nielsen`s better-known “Nu lyser løv I lunde” the Danish National Vocal Ensemble shows how colour can be adjusted to create a journey nonetheless. Just as often there are lightly polyphonic arrangements, as in Hans Hansen´s “ For alle de små blomster”. There is more gentle sophistication in Oluf Ring´s autumnal “Sig nærmer tiden”, famously covered by Denmarks´s folk-rock hero Kim Larsen.
This ensemble´s lightness of touch and exquisite detail are revealed best in Laub´s “Stille, Hjerte, sol går ned” and in the tripping textures of Nielsen´s “Se dig ud en sommerdag”, even if the passing chromatic harmonies are sometimes smudged. Plenty here reveals the essence of so much 20th-and 21st-century Danish music; the booklet contains no translation from the Danish text, although English translations are available from the record company´s website. 
Andrew Mellor, Gramophone

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Marcus Creed, conductor
The Secret Mass
Choral works by Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů
The Danish performance is very moving in its own right and it completes a highly satisfying programme
William Hedley, Music Web International UK
07 August 2018
Music Web International
Every sensible person knows that league tables – for hospitals, schools etc. – are absurd things that help nobody. This certainly applies to music and musicians. But here goes. I think Frank Martin’s Double-Choir Mass deserves a place right at the pinnacle of the a cappella choral music league table.

The title of this disc is The Secret Mass, an appropriate one given that Martin said of the work that it was a matter between himself and God, which in turn probably explains why he withheld the work from performance and publication for four decades. Martin’s father was a Calvinist pastor, and the composer’s religious faith and the nature of his upbringing colours his music. There is something of the ascetic about much of it, but it would be a mistake to think of the composer, or his Mass, as cold. On the contrary, the extreme fervour of his religious belief is present in every note of the work, but it is kept under tight control, to the extent that many passages threaten to break the bonds of what is possible to express in music.

The Mass is composed for two four-part choirs, with multiple divisions within each choir. The score is liberally peppered with tempo and expression marks, but there is not a single metronome value given, leaving tempi very much to the performers. One of the many strengths of this magnificent performance is that Marcus Creed’s tempo choices are judicious – though one means by this, inevitably, that they are what this particular listener wants to hear. Another strength, however, is that he is scrupulous about following the composer’s indications. So, when Martin marks in the score that a given passage should go “a little faster”’ or “with more insistence” Creed takes note and respects the marking. Only in one place, the opening of the Sanctus, do I find his tempo too slow for Martin’s “With movement but very calm”, but there’s no denying that the chosen tempo allows this magnificent choir to build up to a gloriously sonorous and passionate climax. At a few other points the conductor inserts tempo changes that the composer does not ask for. The ‘Christe eleison’ goes faster than the ‘Kyrie’, for example, and the music surges forward at the words ‘Confiteor unum baptisma’ (Credo) following a particularly wise tempo choice for the preceding passage. The only instance of this that bothered me was the sudden slowing down a minute or so before the end of the work, in the sublime ‘Agnus Dei’, composed four years later than the rest of the work. How pleasing, though, to hear the second choir breathing with the first, giving shape and musical sense to the monophonic chant with which it supports the first choir’s glorious melodic lines.

The Mass is very demanding of its performers, and the five Songs of Ariel even more so. The idiom is more advanced and the choir is, again, frequently divided. The texts, all from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, frequently demand pictorial effects and Martin does not shirk them. Dogs bark and bells ring with remarkable gusto in ‘Come unto these yellow sands’, and as for ‘Where the bee sucks, there suck I’, you’ll be wanting to take out the fly swat. All these effects are dispatched with remarkable brilliance and precision by the singers. The strangeness of Shakespeare’s play is well retained by Martin’s music. The real meat of the piece is the dramatic fourth song, a setting of Ariel’s long speech from Act 3 in which he reprimands the three noblemen who have betrayed Prospero and warns them of their future fate. The alto solo part is superbly taken by Hanna-Maria Strand.

Heard immediately after the Martin, the greater simplicity of Martinů’s Four Songs of the Virgin Mary is evident. It might even seem dryer, with fewer divisions within the choir. These are, however, lovely pieces that will surely bring pleasure to lovers of choral music, just as they do to me. The four songs are settings of Czech folk texts, and the composer’s aim was clearly simplicity of utterance. The music is solidly tonal with a firm hold on dissonance and little counterpoint. The words are clearly audible, therefore, and, though I am not a Polish speaker, the choir seems to have mastered that difficult language very well. You can follow the original text in the booklet, but not, sadly, at the same time as reading the English translation as they are not printed side by side. So it’s a good idea to read the texts first, particularly of the third song where the new-born Christ, responding to a comment from his mother who is presumably hungry following labour, offers to catch fish in the river! A comic text, then, simple and unsophisticated, and it’s a measure of the composer’s skill that by the music he finds to accompany the text, simple and unsophisticated in its turn, he achieves something strangely moving.

Romance from the Dandelions is one of four choral works, usually referred to as cantatas, that the homesick Martinů, exiled in the United States, composed in the 1950s. A young girl waits seven long years for her beloved to come home from the war. She is represented in this unaccompanied work by a solo soprano, beautifully taken here by Klaudia Kidon. A brief passage of march rhythm is tapped out on a drum, but the work is otherwise unaccompanied. The composer is skilful at alternating solo passages and those of the choir, and the work, though melancholy throughout, is varied in texture and often very beautiful. All four cantatas appear on a Supraphon disc (SU4198-2) where the superb Prague Philharmonic Chamber Choir is conducted by Lukaś Vasilek and the march rhythms are tapped out on a chair! Martinů enthusiasts will not let this disc pass them by. The Danish choir’s singing is more sensuous, arguably less authentic. There is less feeling of dramatic movement than in the Czech performance. But this is only evident in straight comparative listening. The Danish performance is very moving in its own right and it completes a highly satisfying programme.
William Hedley, Music Web International UK

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Marcus Creed, conductor
The Secret Mass
Choral works by Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů
the singers deliver performances that capture the restrained radiance of these lovely works.
Jan Smaczny, BBC Music Magazine
03 August 2018

Frank martin turned reticence about the public exposure of his music into a fine art. His Mass for two choirs was composed in 1922, but did not see the light of day until 1963 and then only because of the German conductor Franz Brunnert. Why so coy? The Kyrie with its sinuous modal choral lines has immediate appeal. The Gloria shows a certain affinity with the double choir motets of Bach, but the result is individual and also engaging.
Composed nearly 30 years later, Martin´s atmospheric settings of familiar verse from Shakespeare´s The Tempest shares the post-impressionist world of the Mass, but with a rather sharper edge. In both works, the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, directed by Marcus Creed, produces an excellently-integrated sound, although they might have been bolder in defining climatic phrases in the longer movements.
Both of the Martinu works recorded here have strong folk roots. While outwardly simple, the Four Songs for Mary, composed in 1934, go well beyond their initial, folk-songs inspiration with rich harmonies and a clear blend of depth and humour. The Romance of the Dandelions belongs to a group of cantatas composed toward the end of his life and rich in nostalgia for his youth in the Bohemian-Moravian highland. The textures are more experimental, with choral humming and an extensive solo for soprano, beautifully sung her. The choir´s Chech declamation could be more pointed, but overall the singers deliver performances that capture the restrained radiance of these lovely works. 
Jan Smaczny, BBC Music Magazine

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Marcus Creed, conductor
The Secret Mass
Choral works by Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů
10/10 review- This is a lovely recording of worthy music–great music, in the case of the Mass–in performances that are as good as you will hear anywhere.
David Vernier, Classics Today (US)
14 July 2018
It’s easy to hear the opening of Frank Martin’s Mass and think–Vaughan Williams, as in his own setting for a cappella double choir, composed in the early 1920s, just a year or two before Martin’s work. Not to say there’s any direct connection, but that beginning Kyrie chant-like theme and the gradual addition of voices strikes a more than casual note (or notes) of similarity. It’s interesting, that’s all, but as in the Vaughan Williams, it definitively marks the stylistic sensibility of the whole work. And it’s a beautiful and eminently moving work, not heard often enough (nor is the Vaughan Williams, for that matter). The disc’s title refers to the fact that Martin kept his Mass from performance–or even from view–for more than 40 years after its composition in 1922.
But of course, Martin is not Vaughan Williams, and very quickly we realize that the similar musical setup is taking us into an entirely different world–harmonically for sure, but also in its more immediate, dramatic expression of the text, all the while remaining firmly in a tonal context–albeit a more adventurous one. The comparison is useful, as it so strikingly shows how two contemporaries differently–completely differently–treated the same material, with the same performing forces (also observable in the two composer’s settings of the Shakespeare/Ariel song, “Full fathom five”).
You might think it was just a clever gimmick to juxtapose Martin and Martinu–close contemporaries (Martin was 10 years older) with closely similar last names, who just happen to have composed sets of a cappella choral songs–but actually their music is quite compatible and the programming proves to be not a gimmick at all, but a happy association. It’s interesting to compare how these two composers, subject to the influences of their similar time yet quite different circumstances, approached the setting of secular choral works–texts from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in the case of Martin, and Czech folksong in the case of Martinu. The former texts are fairly familiar, but the Czech songs are, at least in English translation, almost strange in their depiction of Mary, her (instantly, fully functional) child, her dreams (an apple tree sprouting from her heart), her encounters with angels, and her fierce protection from highwaymen of a painting by St. Luke. But the music in both cases is superb–often challenging, but always easy on the ears and compelling, invigorating, inspiriting.
You’ll be sure to go back just to listen again to Martin’s depictions of the bonging bells (Full fathom five) and burrling bees (Where the bee sucks…), not to mention return visits to Martinu’s Our Lady’s Breakfast (you have to hear it). You also have to hear Martinu’s Romance from the Dandelions–another one of those very particular old-world, romantic, folktale-like stories of hopeless love and sacrifice, of a young woman and her long-lost soldier/lover–a hard-to-classify setting of a Czech poem for a cappella choir and solo soprano–unusual and oddly affecting.
The singing is exceptional–this choir, as we’ve heard on earlier recordings, is one of the world’s finest, and here the singers are constantly challenged with prickly technical details and are offered many chances–perfectly realized–to deliver those ringing, resonant harmonic gestures that all choral singers live for. Their Czech pronunciation/enunciation is, how shall we say it, rather “soft”–the delicious richness of those special consonants tends to be rounded off–and unfortunately the translations, attempting to be poetic rather than literal, are often just corny. The English and Czech are printed on completely separate pages in the booklet (which otherwise contains very informative and well-written notes), which is useless if you’re trying to follow along. But, as you’ve gathered from the rest of this review–it ultimately doesn’t matter. This is a lovely recording of worthy music–great music, in the case of the Mass–in performances that are as good as you will hear anywhere.
David Vernier, Classics Today (US)

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Marcus Creed, conductor
The Secret Mass
Choral works by Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů
The music is splendid, and the singing is invigorating, focused and delivers the challenging music with ease and musicality that will reward the listener upon each listen. That’s the short of it!
Adorjan Horvát, Staccatofy.com
13 July 2018
The Danish National Vocal Ensemble is the elite choir of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR). Comprised of eighteen professional soloist, the ensemble is internationally known for its pure, transparent Nordic sound with a strong personal mode of expression. Since 2014, the principal conductor of the ensemble has been Marcus Creed. The Danish National Vocal Ensemble presents the whole spectrum of choral music – from Medieval and Renaissance music through Romantic classics to brand new works by young composing talents. The beauty of their a cappella performances are now captured in first-rate fidelity on their album, The Secret Mass, CHORAL WORKS BY FRANK MARTIN AND BOHUSLAV MARTINŮ. The album presents: Frank Martin’s Mass for two four-part choirs and Songs of Ariel as well as Bohuslav Martinů’s Four Songs of the Virgin Mary and Romance from the Dandelions. The album totals fifteen tracks. The ensemble sings wonderfully, each section comes through clearly and the soloist are top notch. The text and harmony are adventurous and compelling. The overall flow of the two composers together make for an excellent listen, both approached the setting of the secular choral works with grace and style. The text comes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in the case of Martin, and Czech Republic folk-songs from MARTINŮ. The music is splendid, and the singing is invigorating, focused and delivers the challenging music with ease and musicality that will reward the listener upon each listen. That’s the short of it!  
Adorjan Horvát, Staccatofy.com

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Marcus Creed, conductor
The Secret Mass
Choral works by Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů
”Fabulous performance of excuisite choral works by two 20th Century composers. If you don´t know Martin and Martinu, you won´t find a better introduction”.
Bill Todd, senior Native DSD reviewer July 2018
05 Juky 2018
”Fabulous performance of exquisite choral works by two 20th Century composers. If you don´t know Martin and Martinu, you won´t find a better introduction”
Bill Todd, senior Native DSD reviewer July 2018

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Marcus Creed, conductor
The Secret Mass
Choral works by Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů
..the result is some deeply felt, little-known, and instantly accessible music.
James Manheim, AllMusic
03 July 2018
The "Secret Mass" referred to in the title of this album actually pertains only to one work: the Mass for two four-part choirs of Swiss composer Frank Martin. The composer suppressed that work for both religious and professional reasons: he believed that his Calvinist faith was a purely private matter, and he was intensely self-critical throughout his career. In any event, it's a lovely work, with a particularly vivid response to the mass text. The juxtaposition of Martin with Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu makes sense, right down to the similarity of their names. Both composers flirted with modern elements within a basically neoclassic context, and both managed to infuse strongly personal elements into their rather fixed styles. Martinu, who fled Communism and settled in America for a time, wrote a good deal of music in English, but here it is Martin who is represented by an English-language work: the Songs of Ariel, to texts by Shakespeare. Sample one or more of these: they're not well-known pieces, and the Danish National Vocal Ensemble under conductor Marcus Creed catches Martin's the lively melodic idiom perfectly. OUR Recordings engineers contribute perfectly idiomatic sound from a Danish Radio studio, and the result is some deeply felt, little-known, and instantly accessible music. 4 out of 5 stars review
James Manheim, AllMusic

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Marcus Creed, conductor
The Secret Mass
Choral works by Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů
Displaying his mature style, they're again sublime
Graham Rickson, theartsdisk.com
16 June 2018
We're lucky to be able to hear Frank Martin’s Mass for two four-part choirs at all; this most fastidious and self-critical of composers beavered away for decades before he felt he'd found his mature compositional voice. If you're not yet familiar with Martin, rush out now and pick up a recording of his sublime Petite Symphonie Concertante. It deserves be a popular classic, but Martin is still dismissed as a dour Swiss technician by those poor souls who've never heard a note of his music. That work was composed in the mid 1940s. This Mass was completed in 1922, but was locked away until choral conductor Franz Bunnert caught site of the score and persuaded Martin to sanction a premiere in 1963. Self-doubt was only part of it: Martin was deeply religious but felt that his relationship with God was a personal matter, and that the Mass’s “expression of religious feelings ought to remain private and be kept away from the public.” This work is too good to have remained hidden. It is restrained, intimate and personal, though anyone coming to it cold will be dazzled by how beautiful the music is, a radiant, accessible affirmation of faith. It gets a glorious performance from Marcus Creed’s well-drilled Danish choir. Every line is audible, the diction impeccable. If I were forced to choose just one choice moment, I'd opt for the sopranos’ flattened seventh 20 seconds into the “Sanctus”. Phwoar. You’ll know when you hear it. There's also the matter of Martin’s Songs of Ariel, five acapella Shakespeare settings which later prompted him to write an opera based on The Tempest. Displaying his mature style, they're again sublime. The tolling bells in Full Fathom Five and buzzing insects mimicked in Where the bee sucks are brilliantly realised.
From Martin, it's just a short encyclopaedical hop to his near-contemporary Martinů, whose 1934 Four Songs of the Virgin Mary are also included. These settings of folk poetry are irresistible: there’s a joyous depiction of the newborn Christ catching fish for his mother’s breakfast and a cautionary tale about highwaymen damaging a holy icon. Martinů's affecting secular cantata Romance from the Dandelions closes the disc. Beautifully sung, engineered and packaged, with full texts and translations. 
Graham Rickson, theartsdisk.com

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Marcus Creed, conductor
The Secret Mass
Choral works by Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů
..the disc is greatly impressive
Ivan Moody, Gramophone, June issue
06 June 2018
This is an intriguing programme. Though one might initially think that it is simply inspired by the juxtaposition of the composers´ names, in fact they are both born in 1890 and their careers were both singular enough to make a comparison of their work a project of considerable interest.
 Martin´s Mass has gone from a work hardly performed to a stable of the choral repertoire, and justly so: it is a composition of tremendous luminosity and great variety. This performance is not the most engaging I have heard – for that one would need The Sixteen, Westminster Cathedral Choir or the Vasari Singers – but the choral sound is rich and warm. There is something a little perfunctory, for example, about the Kyrie, and especially the Christie, which sounds rushed, but the choir´s response to the later movements of the work is deeply affecting.
In any case, the rest of the disc is greatly impressive. Martin´s wonderful Songs of Ariel are given a virtuoso rendition that brings out every nuance and are alone worth the price of the disc. But the addition of the choral works by Martinú creates a wholly unusual and effective balance in the programming. The Four Songs of the Virgen Mary are works of tremendous subtlety, and beautifully sing: while are peaks of the Czech choral repertoire, I do hope performances by non-Czech choirs, especially of this standard, will bring these works into greater international circulation. The Romance of the Dandelion is also a thing of beauty, and while possibly more difficult to programme, if you have a soprano like Klaudia Kidon, you are surely guaranteed success. 
Ivan Moody, Gramophone, June issue

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Marcus Creed, conductor
The Secret Mass
Choral works by Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů
Recording of the Month!Marcus Creed’s Danish National Vocal Ensemble sing this music with a straight tone, perfectly pitched and wonderfully blended. I have heard some other fine performances of Martin’s Mass, but none better than this.
Leslie Wright, MusicWeb-International
23 May 2018
Recording of the month
What a clever idea to combine a cappella works of Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů on a single disc! Although one composer was Swiss and the other Czech, they are exact contemporaries and both composed idiomatically for unaccompanied choir. Marcus Creed has done much in recent years to bring all kinds of choral music to the listening public. I have greatly admired his “country” series, including America, Russia, and Finland, and a Hindemith CD, all with the SWR Vokalensemble, as well as a Messiaen programme with the Danish choir who perform here. With the choir’s exquisite singing, this new disc can now join those for the pleasure it provides.
Martin’s early Mass for Double Choir has an interesting history, hence the title of this recording. Martin began composing the work in 1922, but withheld it from the public for 40 years. A combination of self-criticism and his strict Calvinism, where he felt his relationship with the Almighty was a private affair, kept him from allowing such a personal piece to be performed in public. Finally, a German choral conductor acquaintance of Martin’s convinced him to allow a performance to take place in 1963. The mass, considered one of Martin’s finest compositions, has received many performances since, though the work is hardly characteristic of the mature Martin. Although the mass clearly belongs to the twentieth century, the influence of Gregorian chant and Bach is everywhere present. The melismatic, chant-like opening of the Kyrie eleison, indeed, recalls music of an earlier age before the work builds polyphonically with both austere and more comforting harmony. The mass contains such contrasts throughout and the music is always closely tied to the text. Originally, Martin concluded the work in 1922 with the Benedictus, where the sopranos sing their highest note at fortissimo. Four years later he added the Agnus Dei, which Jens Cornelius aptly describes in the disc’s notes: “This is movingly beautiful music where Choir 2 is the solid foundation, while Choir 1 sings melodic lines that, as in the introduction of the mass, remind one of Gregorian chants.” Marcus Creed’s Danish National Vocal Ensemble sing this music with a straight tone, perfectly pitched and wonderfully blended. I have heard some other fine performances of Martin’s Mass, but none better than this.

While the Mass for Double Choir is the most substantial piece and the highlight of the programme, the other works are all worthy in their own right. The disc is well balanced between the sacred and the secular. Following Martin’s mass are Martinů’s Four Songs of the Virgin Mary, simpler and folk-like, the first of ten collections of choral songs by the composer. The titles do not belie their contents: The Annunciation, A Dream, the rather humourous Our Lady’s Breakfast, and The Virgin Mary’s Picture. The choir master the Czech tongue, a particularly difficult language for non-native speakers, and perform these songs with excellent pronunciation and dedication. These attractive songs reminded me, both harmonically and rhythmically, of Janáček’s unaccompanied choral pieces.

The choir switch to English for their next set, Martin’s five Songs of Ariel, the composer’s only other a cappella work. This later composition, with the texts taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, resonates like the more familiar and mature Martin with his distinctive harmony which owes something to Schoenberg, but remains basically tonal. They are quite delightful and require some virtuosity and vocal power. The choir obviously relish them and perform them with superb feeling and diction. The songs are Come unto these yellow sands, Full fathom five (with a baritone solo), Before you can say “come and go,” You are three men of sin (with an alto solo), and Where the bee sucks, there suck I.
 
The programme concludes with one of Martinů’s last works, The Romance of the Dandelions. This cantata-like piece has a major role for the solo soprano, unlike the more minor solos in Martin’s Songs of Ariel, and tells the story of a Czech girl who waits for her soldier sweetheart to return from war. It is very moving, and the soprano soloist, Klaudia Kidon, could easily pass for a native Czech with her strong and clear high voice. The choir contributes wordless interludes and sound effects, and there is a part for “finger-drumming.” On this recording a real drum is played to imitate the military rhythms, symbolizing the young soldier. It is certainly effective, but I think the finger-drumming would have been more authentic, and not as loud as the military drum used here. The title of the piece in Czech, Romance z pampelišek, literally means “romance from the dandelions” and that’s how it is translated in the disc’s booklet and sometimes elsewhere—for example, on the front of the Bärenreiter edition. However, that translation seems odd to me, so I have used the more readily understood “romance of the dandelions.”

OUR Recordings contribute an attractive bi-fold album and booklet with plenty of photos and well-written notes on the composers, the works, the choir, and Marcus Creed, as well as a listing of the choir members. There is one minor goof, which should have been corrected, in the track list on the back of the booklet and the album: the timings for the last three Songs of Ariel are in the wrong order. Also the texts and English translations are on separate pages, which makes it nearly impossible to follow along, whereas the more usual side-by-side arrangement would have remedied this. It is a small matter, for this is one of the most enjoyable discs I have reviewed in some time. With exemplary performances and recorded sound, the SACD should be in the collection of anyone who cares about twentieth-century choral music. 
Leslie Wright, MusicWeb-International

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Marcus Creed, conductor
The Secret Mass
Choral works by Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů
The excellent Danish National Vocal Ensemble under its director Marcus Creed illuminates the four works with a sensitive and committed singing
Remy Franck, Pizzicato
21 May 2018
Frank Martin nutzte die Ruhe der Schweiz, um sein eigenes Idiom zu entwickeln. Einflüsse aus chromatischer und Zwölftonmusik flossen zwar ein, aber nur soweit sie sich in sein System einfügen konnten.
Bohuslav Martinu kam aus der tschechischen Provinz bald in die weite Welt und konnte aufgrund der politischen Umstände nicht mehr in seine Heimat zurückkehren. Ebenso wie Martin entwickelte er einen sehr persönlichen Stil, obwohl auch er in Debussy, Roussel und Stravinsky Anlehnungspunkte hatte. Außer dem gemeinsamen Geburtsjahr und dem ähnlichen Namen verbindet die beiden nicht allzu viel.
Nur zwei Kompositionen für a cappella-Chor hat Martin geschrieben, die beide auf dieser Aufnahme zu hören sind. Während die Messe auf Muster aus Gregorianik, Renaissance und Johann Sebastian Bach schaut, sind die ‘Lieder für Ariel’ nach der Figur aus ‘Der Sturm von Shakespeare’ sehr persönliche, geradezu intime Werke, die nichtsdestotrotz mit acht oder gar zehnstimmigen Partien und vielfältigen virtuosen Herausforderungen hohe Anforderungen an die Sänger stellen.
Das Chorwerk von Martinu ist dagegen vielfältig. Bei seiner Ankunft in Paris hatte er Volksmusik aus seiner Heimat dabei, die auch in die ‘Vier Lieder über die Jungfrau Maria’ einfloss. Trotz ihrer überschaubaren Strukturen und einfachen Texte handelt es sich um Kleinode. Bereits in den USA übermannte ihn sein Heimweh. Die ‘Pusteblume’ ist ein Mädchen seiner Heimat, das auf die Rückkehr ihre Geliebten aus dem Krieg wartet, zu lange.
Das Nationale Dänische Vokalensemble, hier unter der Leitung seines gegenwärtigen Leiters Marcus Creed, besteht seit gut zehn Jahren und hat mit klarem und transparentem Gesang auf sich aufmerksam gemacht. Auch technisch muss sich der Chor hinter anderen nicht verstecken. In der Präsentation der Werke von Martin und Martinu und der Umsetzung von deren verschiedenartigen Anforderungen bestätigt sich diese Qualität.
Choral works by Martin and Martinu are not really connected, but nevertheless they go very well together because of the personal music language of both composers. The excellent Danish National Vocal Ensemble under its director Marcus Creed illuminates the four works with a sensitive and committed singing
Remy Franck, Pizzicato

Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Marcus Creed, conductor
The Secret Mass
Choral works by Frank Martin and Bohuslav Martinů
astonishing richness of the interpreted partitions,...recommended to all lovers of choral music.
Maciej Chiżyński, Resmusica, FR
10 May 2018
Après des productions consacrées à la musique chorale de Francis Poulenc et d’Olivier Messiaen, l’Ensemble vocal national du Danemark, sous la direction de Marcus Creed, se livre à l’exploration des œuvres de deux compositeurs nés en 1890, dont le nom pourrait prêter à une confusion pour les non-initiés : Martin et Martinů. L’album témoigne, autant par la diversité du répertoire que par le caractère des prestations, d’une richesse étonnante des partitions interprétées.
 
Le disque s’ouvre par la Messe pour double chœur a cappella de Frank Martin, composée entre 1922 et 1924 dans un style « archaïque moderne », complétée en 1926 par un Agnus Dei, et créée seulement une quarantaine d’années plus tard, en 1963, à Hambourg. Comme l’indique son titre, cette messe est écrite pour des cori spezzati, c’est-à-dire deux groupes de quatre voix, conformément à la technique de composition que Martin emprunta à la musique de la Renaissance, mais également à celle de Jean-Sébastien Bach dont il appréciait largement l’œuvre. Par sa structure, celle de l’ordinarium missae, cette page s’inscrit dans un legs grégorien, notamment par l’introduction de longs mélismes passant de chœur en chœur – très purs et lumineux dans cette interprétation –, renvoyant au plain-chant, de même que des tenues de notes rappelant le faux-bourdon médiéval. La riche polyphonie qui y est déployée, non sans références à l’héritage dudit Bach, est rendue avec simplicité et avec un naturel de phrasé, tout comme avec vigueur et passion dans les passages les plus dramatiques. Pour le Credo – où le chant n’est pas confié à un soliste, comme d’habitude pour ce type de compositions, mais soumis à l’exécution par tous les choristes – nous sommes impressionnés par la limpidité des tons et des nuances, le charme des voix homogènes, ainsi que par leur diction, irréprochable pour toutes les œuvres proposées sur ce disque (même pour le tchèque !). Pour le Sanctus – débutant par un simple ostinato de voix masculines auxquelles ne tardent pas à se joindre les sopranos, éblouissantes, des deux chœurs –, on est frappé par la manière dont ceux-ci dialoguent, avec une sensibilité musicale élevée et beaucoup d’énergie, de sorte que la tension n’arrête pas de s’accroître tout au long du mouvement, se clôturant sur une sonorité si forte et dense que la prise de son est marquée par des légers craquements. Par effet de contraste, l’Agnus Dei, pour lequel le chœur II paraît limité à un simple appui harmonique du chœur I, commence dans une atmosphère rassurante, soulignée par un legato de belle facture et d’une élégance, suavité et pureté rares. Là où l’intensité parvient à son plus haut degré, cette ambiance se dégrade lors d’une émission forte de quelques accords dissonants, néanmoins un diminuendo, accompagné d’un délicat ralentissement du tempo, signale une remise en état initial rapide, se maintenant jusqu’à la fin de l’exécution.
 
Les Quatre chants sur la Vierge Marie de Bohuslav Martinů – achevés en 1934, inspirés par des mélodies et textes folkloriques tchèques – nous emmènent dans un monde complètement différent de celui de la messe latine. Composés à quatre parties, et de taille assez modeste, ces miniatures vocales sont d’une beauté touchante, tout comme d’une grande intimité, voire d’une austérité contemplative. Dans le premier morceau, intitulé L’Annonciation, on est mis face à la scène de la proclamation de la maternité divine faite à la Vierge Marie par l’archange Gabriel, qui – au niveau des harmonies et de l’expression – nous fait ressentir l’anxiété qu’éprouve la jeune femme. Les choristes illustrent cette angoisse par des modulations du tempo et d’intensité, offertes sous forme de séquence de crescendos et d’accélérandos, après lesquels la déclamation du texte revient à son état d’origine (Marie accepte la volonté de Dieu). Le chant suivant, Un rêve, nous apporte une vision onirique d’un repos de la Vierge au paradis, renvoyant par les multiples couleurs dont s’imprègnent les voix des interprètes, données en demi-teintes, à des fresques et vitraux aussi lumineux qu’éloquents d’une vieille église villageoise. La troisième pièce du cycle, Petit déjeuner de la Vierge Marie – dont les paroles purement conceptuelles n’ont rien à voir avec les dogmes de la foi catholique –, nous fait réaliser à quel point cette musique, mise en évidence par une exécution pleine de tendresse et de poésie, est enracinée dans la culture slave, dont les élans populaires se voient traduits ici en psalmodie classique. Le dernier chant, L’Image de la Vierge Marie, magnifie l’icône de la Madone Noire de Częstochowa, ville polonaise, tout en racontant l’histoire de l’élaboration de cette peinture (dont l’origine reste pour d’aucuns une énigme à ce jour, la tradition l’attribue à Luc l’évangéliste), ainsi qu’en expliquant l’origine des deux rayures dues à des coups de sabre, visibles sur la joue gauche de la Vierge. La lecture proposée par la formation danoise met en valeur la clarté des polyphonies et l’expressivité un brin exempte toutefois, bien que coulant du cœur, du dramatisme caché sous les paroles du récit. L’équilibre est ainsi trouvé entre l’objectivisme (qu’on comprend parfois comme une distance émotionnelle) et l’exagération susceptible de prêter à l’hystérie ou au ridicule.
 
Hormis la Messe pour double chœur, Frank Martin écrivit encore, en 1950, une œuvre a cappella : Cinq chants d’Ariel, composés à un nombre de parties variable, dont la quantité va jusqu’à seize, de même que constitués de passages pour une voix seule, baryton et alto, qui n’interviennent cependant qu’exceptionnellement. Pour les animer, Martin se sert de techniques de chant variées, en attachant la plus grande importance à la signification du texte en vue d’établir un fil conducteur entre les paroles et la musique. D’une virtuosité sensible mais pas démonstrative, ses miniatures impressionnent autant par la multitude de teintes que par la complexité de textures et d’harmonies, rendues par la phalange danoise avec une certaine sobriété expressive inhérente à leur caractère introverti et intimiste. Créés en 1953, les Cinq chants d’Ariel sont élaborés à des textes anglais de La Tempête de William Shakespeare, confiés par celui-ci à Ariel, l’un des personnages les plus curieux et, à la fois, les plus emblématiques de l’ouvrage : un esprit. Cette pièce de théâtre a dû inspirer profondément l’artiste suisse qui, en outre, façonna sur sa base, entre 1952 et 1954, un opéra Der Sturm, dont l’ouverture et le point final de l’épilogue, pour n’en citer que deux exemples, reprennent le matériel thématique du second des Chants d’Ariel, dénommé Full fathom five. Nous sommes enchantés par la richesse imaginative que le compositeur y déploie, et la façon dont il crée l’image des profondeurs mystérieuses de l’océan, en introduisant un ostinato renvoyant à une sonnerie de l’horloge – le chœur déclame avec grâce des « Ding dong, bell » répétitifs, agrémentés de rythmes inquiétants, habilement tissés dans la subtile enveloppe harmonique de l’œuvre –, ayant ici pour but d’illustrer les coraux et les perles gisant au fond du bassin en tant que restes transformés d’un être humain noyé. Parmi les solistes, on saluera particulièrement Hanna-Maria Strand dont l’alto profond, onctueux et suggestif nous donne le frisson dans le morceau You are three men of sin, où Ariel qu’elle incarne, jette un sort sur trois des ennemis de Prospero.
 
L’album se clôt par une cantate de chambre pour chœur mixte et soprano, La Romance des pissenlits, composée par Martinů aux alentours de 1957, sur des vers tchèques du poète Miloslav Bureš. La partition trouve en cette exécution un enrichissement de texture musicale par une « intervention » d’un vrai tambour militaire – symbolisant l’apparition d’un soldat – par l’intermédiaire de laquelle Marcus Creed s’efforce de rendre le propos du texte chanté plus éloquent. Nous sommes témoins d’une tragédie amoureuse : une jeune femme, dont les déclarations sont commentées et complétées par celles du chœur, attend depuis sept ans que son bien-aimé, ledit militaire, revienne de la guerre. Son chagrin et sa langueur sont ici évoqués par Klaudia Kidon, dotée d’un soprano simple, non-tubé et cristallin, mais un peu inexpressif. Par ailleurs, cette « fadeur » d’expression (surtout un manque de ferveur) caractérise également la prestation donnée par les choristes, dont la déclamation ne semble pas rendre justice, par moments, aux émotions dont cette page est emplie.
 
Avec l’effectif de vingt-quatre chanteurs (six sopranos, six altos, six ténors et six barytons), l’Ensemble vocal national du Danemark sous la direction attentive et équilibrée de Marcus Creed rend hommage et reste fidèle aux plus grandes traditions musicales du pays scandinave. La présence dans le livret d’une traduction bilingue anglais-tchèque des textes chantés rend l’écoute du disque plus agréable et plus enrichissante. À recommander à tous les amateurs de musique chorale.
English Google Translation:

Google Translation:
After productions dedicated to the choral music of Francis Poulenc and Olivier Messiaen, the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, under the direction of Marcus Creed, explores the works of two composers born in 1890, whose name could lead to confusion for the uninitiated: Martin and Martinů. The album testifies, as much by the diversity of the repertoire as by the character of the performances, of an astonishing richness of the interpreted partitions.
The disc opens with Frank Martin's double a choir a cappella, composed between 1922 and 1924 in an "archaic modern" style, completed in 1926 by an Agnus Dei, and created only forty years later, in 1963, in Hamburg. As its title indicates, this mass is written for cori spezzati, that is to say, two groups of four voices, according to the technique of composition that Martin borrowed from Renaissance music, but also from that of Johann Sebastian Bach, whose work he greatly appreciated. By its structure, that of the ordinarium missae, this page is part of a Gregorian legacy, including the introduction of long melismas from chorus to chorus - very pure and bright in this interpretation - referring to the plainchant, as well as note-keeping reminiscent of the medieval drone. The rich polyphony which is unfolded there, not without references to the inheritance of this Bach, is rendered with simplicity and with a natural of phrasing, just as with vigor and passion in the most dramatic For the Creed - where the singing is not entrusted to a soloist, as usual for this type of compositions, but subject to performance by all the singers - we are impressed by the clarity of the tones and nuances, the charm homogeneous voices, as well as by their diction, irreproachable for all the works proposed on this record (even for the Czech!). For the Sanctus - beginning with a simple ostinato of masculine voices that soon join the sopranos, dazzling, of the two choirs - one is struck by the way in which these dialogues, with a high musical sensibility and a lot of energy, so that the tension does not stop increasing throughout the movement, ending on a sound so strong and dense that the sound is marked by light cracks. By contrast, the Agnus Dei, for which the choir II seems limited to a simple harmonic support of the choir I, begins in a reassuring atmosphere, underlined by a legato of beautiful workmanship and elegance, suavity and purity rare. Where the intensity reaches its highest degree, this atmosphere is degraded during a strong emission of some dissonant chords, nevertheless a diminuendo, accompanied by a delicate slowdown of the tempo, indicates a fast initial restoration, is now until the end of the execution.
 
The four songs about the Virgin Mary by Bohuslav Martinů - completed in 1934, inspired by Czech melodies and folkloric texts - take us into a world completely different from that of the Latin Mass. Composed in four parts, and of rather modest size, these vocal miniatures are of a touching beauty, as well as of a great intimacy, even of a contemplative austerity. In the first piece, entitled The Annunciation, we are confronted with the scene of the proclamation of the divine maternity made to the Virgin Mary by the archangel Gabriel, who - at the level of harmonies and expression - makes us feel the anxiety that the young woman feels. The singers illustrate this anguish by modulations of tempo and intensity, offered as a sequence of crescendos and accelerandos, after which the declamation of the text returns to its original state (Mary accepts the will of God). The following song, A Dream, brings us a dreamlike vision of a rest of the Virgin in paradise, returning by the multiple colors of which the voices of the interpreters, given in halftone, are impregnated with frescoes and stained glass windows as bright as eloquent of an old village church. The third piece of the cycle, Breakfast of the Virgin Mary - whose purely conceptual words have nothing to do with the dogmas of the Catholic faith - makes us realize how much this music, highlighted by a full execution of tenderness and poetry, is rooted in Slav culture, whose popular impulses are translated here into classical psalmody. The last song, The Image of the Virgin Mary, magnifies the icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, Polish city, while telling the story of the development of this painting (the origin of which remains for some a enigma to this day, tradition attributes it to Luke the Evangelist), as well as by explaining the origin of the two scratches due to saber strikes, visible on the left cheek of the Virgin. The reading proposed by the Danish band emphasizes the clarity of the polyphonies and the expressiveness a bit exempt, though flowing from the heart, of the dramatism hidden under the words of the story. The balance is thus found between objectivism (which is sometimes understood as an emotional distance) and exaggeration.
 
Except for the Mass for double choir, Frank Martin wrote again in 1950, a work a cappella: Five songs of Ariel, composed with a variable number of parts, the quantity goes up to sixteen, as well as made up of passages for a single voice, baritone and alto, which only intervene exceptionally. To animate them, Martin uses a variety of singing techniques, attaching the utmost importance to the meaning of the text in order to establish a common thread between words and music. With a delicate but not demonstrative virtuosity, his miniatures impress as much by the multitude of colors as by the complexity of textures and harmonies, rendered by the Danish phalanx with a certain expressive sobriety inherent to their introverted and intimate character. Created in 1953, Ariel's Five Songs are written in English texts by William Shakespeare's The Tempest, entrusted by him to Ariel, one of the most curious characters and, at the same time, the most emblematic of the work: a spirit. This play had to deeply inspire the Swiss artist who, moreover, fashioned on its base, between 1952 and 1954, an opera Der Sturm, whose opening and the end point of the epilogue, to quote that two examples, take up the thematic material of the second of the Songs of Ariel, called Full fathom five. We are delighted by the imaginative richness that the composer displays, and the way he creates the image of the mysterious depths of the ocean, by introducing an ostinato to a bell of the clock - the chorus gracefully declaims " Ding dong, bell repetitive, embellished with disturbing rhythms, skilfully woven into the subtle harmonic envelope of the work - here to illustrate the corals and pearls lying at the bottom of the basin as the remains of a transformed to be drowned human. Amongst the soloists, Hanna-Maria Strand is especially saluted, whose deep, unctuous and suggestive viola gives us the thrill of the song You are three men of sin, where Ariel, which she embodies, casts a spell on three of Prospero's enemies.
The album ends by a cantata of house for mixed choir and soprano, The Romance of dandelions, composed by Martinå around 1957, on to the Czech Republic of the poet Miloslav Bureš. The partition located in this execution an enrichment of musical texture by an "intervention" of a true military drum - symbolizing the appearance of a soldier - through which Marcus Creed is striving to make the connection of the text sung more eloquent. We are witnesses to a tragedy of love: a young woman, whose statements are commented and supplemented by those of the choir, waits in the seven years since his beloved, the said military, returns from the war. His grief and a languor are here mentioned by Angessa Klaudia Kidon, endowed with a soprano simple, non-tubé and crystalline, but a little inexpressive. In addition, this "fadeur" of expression (especially a lack of fervour) also characterized the delivery given by the choir members, including the declamation does not seem to render justice, at times, to the emotions which this page is filled.
With the workforce of the twenty-four singers (six sopranos, six violas, six tenors and six baritones), the entire national voice of Denmark under the careful direction and balanced Marcus Creed pays tribute and remains faithful to the largest musical traditions of the Scandinavian countries. The presence in the operator of a translation bilingual English-Czech of texts sung makes listening of the disk more pleasant and more rewarding. To recommended to all lovers of choral music.
 
 

Maciej Chiżyński, Resmusica, FR
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