Norwegian Renaissance

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Program: #18-08   Air Date: Feb 12, 2018

For their 20th anniversary, this superb Norwegian vocal ensemble (in collaboration with the director of the New Victoria Edition) chose to perform six-voice works by Tomas Luis de Victoria; plus Lamentation settings from the Renaissance.

Once again, we turn back to a collaboration with the Royal Norwegian Embassy in the presentation of some recent remarkable works in the field of early music with Norwegian composers and performers.

Very special thanks to the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C. For more information on Norwegian cultural events, or for travel and tourist information, you may explore:

Or go to the Facebook page (@NorwegianEmbassyinWashington), or Twitter @NorwayUS

N.B.—All of the music on this program features the ensemble Nordic Voices. They are an internationally acclaimed six-voice a cappella ensemble praised for the depth of its programming and its extraordinary vocal skills. A technically brilliant ensemble, Nordic Voices made a quick sensation in international vocal circles and is now acknowledged as a leader of the a cappella artform. The group’s repertoire spans the Renaissance to the contemporary, on disc and in performances across Asia, Europe and North America. Nordic Voices is unrivaled in the fine art of sophisticated music-making and stylish performance, and as a result has been hailed by international critics for live appearances and remarkable recordings. For more information:

I & III. Nordic Voices Sing Victoria (Nordic Voices) Chandos Chaconne CD CHSA 0402.


The Norwegian six-member a cappella group Nordic Voices here presents the extraordinary polyphonic music of Tomás Luis de Victoria, a Spanish composer whose music has continued to move people for more than 400 years, crossing geographical, cultural, and even religious barriers.

This surround-sound recording comes ten years after a ‘warm, consistent and moving’ (BBC Music) album of Lamentations, which featured pieces by sixteenth-century composers, including Four Lessons by Victoria. Examples of the composer’s exceptional output, characterised by a careful setting of the text and an ability to control texture by a constant grouping and regrouping of different voices, here meet the artistic resourcefulness, versatility, technical precision, and freshness of the young ensemble.

From MusicWeb International: I have very much enjoyed Nordic Voices from their albums Djanki don and Lamentations (review), the latter of which also took on repertoire by Victoria. With only six solo voices we have the same purity of tone and transparency of texture as with the previous releases, and with a gorgeous church acoustic this is a sound into which one can become absorbed for a long time.

The programme consists of motets from Victoria’s first two collections, which come from his early career and his time in Rome, where he studied at the newly founded Collegium Germanicum. Victoria was to remain in Rome for two decades from 1565 onwards, and the demand for new religious music meant that this was an extremely fruitful period. “Musically composed according to fashion,” we can perhaps imagine some of the effects sought by Victoria, the intent of these pieces very much being ‘to encourage piety in the faithful’, as summed up in Soteraña Aguirre’s admirable booklet notes.

With all texts given in both in the original Latin and English translation, one can follow the rising inflections of the first lines in Tue es Petrus, the floating dove moving above the harmonies of Vidi speciosam, and contrast these with the descending implorations of Salve, Regina. Victoria’s art is supreme in its directness of expression, carrying texts with clarity while at the same time developing considerable polyphonic and structural complexity. Nordic Voices’ approach is equally unfussy, while being deeply expressive and sensitive to Victoria’s many subtleties.

There are of course many ways to skin the proverbial cat, and listeners used to a more jovial rendition of the celebratory Christmas piece Quem vidistis pastores may perhaps miss some of the rhythmic ‘swing’ in Nordic Voices’ more reflective approach. There is no way of knowing which style of performance would have been appreciated in its day but I would say there has to be room for both, and there will always be room on my shelf for Nordic Voices.

1 Quem Vidistis, Pastores 5:34
2 Ardens Est Cor Meum 2:31
3 Congratulamini Mihi 2:48
4 Vexilla Regis 'More Hispano' 7:55
5 Tu Es Petrus 4:54
6 Vidi Speciosam 6:22
7 Nigra Sum Sed Formosa 2:51
8 Salve, Regina 7:55
9 Benedicta Sit Sancta Trinitas 2:57
10 O Domine Jesu Christe 2:34
11 Vadam Et Circuibo Civitatem 8:31

II. Lamentations (Nordic Voices) Chandos Chaconne CD CHSA 0763.


From MusicWeb International: I’ve been a fan of Nordic Voices since reviewing their Djanki don CD, and this is another remarkable, indeed stunning disc. The first thing which will strike you is the photograph on the front. This is listed as ‘A vehicle bomb Improvised Exploding Device detonated near a Green Zone checkpoint in Baghdad, Iraq, the morning of 14 th July 2004.’ This by no means used as a gimmick, though it will certainly make this release stand out from the crowd in the early music section of your local shop, if you have one. Nordic Voices state that they will donate a portion of the group’s royalties from sales of this disc to UNICEF, so not only will you have one of the vocal discs of the year in your collection, you will also have made a contribution to a very good cause indeed.

With only six voices, the relatively compact ensemble of Nordic Voices invites comparison with other similar single-voice-per-part vocal groups. The balance here is equally divided between female and male voices, with two sopranos, one mezzo, tenor, baritone and bass respectively. This means that the sonorities are different to the all-male Hilliard ensemble, whose Gesualdo Tenebrae recording on ECM 1422/23 has long been a favourite of mine. The sheer beauty and emotional intensity of Gesualdo’s Tristis est anima mea benefits greatly from the sharp clarity of single voices, and while Nordic Voices do not shy away from the drama in this music they do take a purer, more restrained approach than I’ve been used to. The Hilliard Ensemble have more heft in terms of vibrato and extremes of gesture, and seize more in terms of compressions in tempo - coming in at 4 :23 to Nordic Voices’ 5:49. If you do not know this piece, hang on through the searing white-knuckle virtuosity of the setting at least until that most magical and serene of moments, et ego vadam immolari pro vobis. If you see someone listening to their iPod and weeping, there is a fair chance they are playing this track, or the final Tenebræ factæ sunt : Et inclinato capite, emisit spiritum.

As the title of this disc indicates, all of the works inthe programme are lamentations or Tenebræ, a celebration during the last days of holy week in which the Passion of and burial Christ is represented with the extinguishing of fourteen candles, the miserere then sung in darkness. Victoria and Palestrina belong in the Rome tradition and therefore have similarities in their approach to these lamentations. Direct comparison is invited with the performance of both composers’ version of the moving Lectio III, Feria V in Cœna Domini. Iod - Manum suam misit hostis. Both composers create remarkable and beautiful settings: that of Victoria filled with expressive line and shape, Palestrina creating restrained intensity through tightly wrought counterpoint and some heart-stopping harmonies. I’ve always been more a fan of Palestrina over Victoria, but even with the latter’s less overtly daring use of dissonance, the Nordic Voices ensemble have shown me qualities in his work which I seem not to have perceived or appreciated when hearing it with full choirs.

Robert White is probably the least familiar name in this programme. Flourishing all too briefly in the troubled English religious environment of Elizabeth I, White worked at the cathedrals of Ely and Chester before becoming Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey by 1570. If, like me, you adore those juicy dissonances which contemporaries such as Thomas Tallis created, you only have to wait 2:24 minutes before the world begins to melt. After catching moments like this you should be reaching for your wallet and muttering ‘I must have this...’ At nearly 18 minutes this is by far the longest setting on this disc, and getting through larger chunks of text in a sustained and deeply moving work of almost symphonic scale. All texts are given in the booklet by the way, translated from the Latin into English, German and French.

True, a disc filled entirely with lamentations is not the one you will be picking for lighter moments and dancing, but there is something compelling and attractive about a sequence of pieces whose emotional content are so rich and so consistently gorgeous. Nordic Voices sing with enough sibilance to articulate the words but avoid over-emphasis, and employ a minimum of vibrato. This is used only very occasionally to allow certain voices to shine through in an entirely natural and deeply moving way; or to sustain harmonic moments - tricking the brain into feeling their resonance beyond change or decay. Specialists in all kinds of vocal expression, this ensemble’s control of intonation and phrasing is absolute. Their default ensemble colour is warm and deep, though they do of course create a remarkable range of texture and timbre. Compare the urgent projection of Exclamans Jesus with the final, chocolate-dark resonance of the final emisit spiritum in that final Gesualdo Responsorium and you will hear what I mean. The continuous contrasts and attention to detail are what transform the more restrained Victoria from a religious fug into a tapestry of fascinating expressive melodic gesture, and what prevents one’s attention from wandering during the lengthy span of White’s setting. Chandos’ excellent recording is entirely sympathetic to the superb singing, with a wide, well-defined stereo spread and perfect proportion between presence and resonance in the marvellous church acoustic.

This disc is recommendable on all levels. The only note which jars is the juxtaposition of the words ‘early music’ over that cover photograph. Yes, this is ‘early music’, and is performed in a way which would hopefully satisfy your ‘early music’ experts. I however believe, and feel Nordic Voices would also agree, that this is music for all of us, and for all times. Baritone Frank Havrøy’s short essay in the booklet confirms this standpoint, and also explains the reasons for wanting to support UNICEF. We in the West may have lost that absolute faith which characterised the era in which these pieces were composed, but if the tenderness and human empathy expressed in this music and these performances could somehow be delivered to and understood by those whose absolute faith results in the kind of destruction symbolised in that photograph, then there would be a greater hope for mankind.

1. Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae: Lamentations of Jeremiah - Incipit oratio Jeremiae by Tomás Luis de Victoria
Length: 6 Minutes 38 Secs.

2. Officium Hebdomadae Sanctae: Lamentations of Jeremiah - Ego vir videns by Tomás Luis de Victoria

Length: 4 Minutes 21 Secs.

3. Lectio I, Sabbato Sancto. Heth - Misericordiæ Domini by Tomás Luis de Victoria
Length: 4 Minutes 6 Secs.

4. Lectio III, Feria V in Cona Domini. Iod - Manum suam misit hostis by Tomás Luis de Victoria

Length: 6 Minutes 50 Secs.

5. Responsories (9), Feria 5: no 2, Tristis est anima mea by Carlo Gesualdo

Length: 5 Minutes 54 Secs.

6. Lectio I and II, Feria V in Cona Domini. Heth - Peccatum peccavit Jerusalem by Robert White
18 Minutes 1 Secs.

7. Lectio III, Feria V in Cona Domini. Iod - Manum suam misit hostis by Giovanni Palestrina
Length: 8 Minutes 39 Secs.

8. Lectio III, Sabbato Sancto. Incipit oratio Jeremiæ Prophetæ by Giovanni Palestrina

Length: 8 Minutes 25 Secs.



Composer Info

Tomás Luis de Victoria , Carlo Gesualdo, Giovanni Palestrina

CD Info

CD CHSA 0402, CD CHSA 0763