The Vanishing Nordic Chorale is named Gramophone's 'Editor's Choice'
Review by Geoffrey Norris, in the November 2011 issue of Gramophone
There is something enchanting about this disc that opens it up to a wider circle of listeners than those who simply want to hear the aria Lobe den Herren from Bach's Cantata No. 137 sung in Norwegian, or Mendelssohn's setting of Luther's prayer Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich performed in Danish. Philip Spray, music director of the Indianapolis-based Musik Ekklesia, has done a lot of research in tracking the travels of familiar chorale texts and tunes to the Nordic countries and thence, through processes of emigration, to the New World. His conclusion, as the disc's title indicates, is that the tradition has now largely died out, but he has resurrected a good many examples of cross-fertilisation that make for a thoroughly appealing sequence.
Thus Praetorius' Christmas anthem Psallite turns up in Swedish, and Bach's O Jesulein süss, O Jesulein mild in Norwegian. The American soloists and chorus, drilled by diction coaches, sound like they're at ease with the languages and sing with fluency and clarity. The period instrumental ensemble has an agreeable pungency and the new Baroque-style Opus X organ in the First Lutheran Church of Boston has an attractively reedy quality on which the excellent Hungarian organist Bálint Karosi capitalises.
This is a disc with intriguing slants on music that we may know from elsewhere and in other manifestations, and the connections are explained in the booklet-notes. But it also contains works by Grieg, Nielsen and Buxtehude, whose credentials as Nordic composers earn them a warranted place in the programme.