Vocal ensemble shows the sources and the art

A sense of proportion
Sune Anderberg, Kristeligt Dagblad
Tirsdag, 17. september Link til originalartikel

Half a millennium separates the works that the Danish vocal ensemble Ars Nova has presented under the heading "A Sense of Proportion" in Odense, Elsinore and Copenhagen, before the trip to the Open Days festival in Aalborg on Saturday. The focal point is Flemish Johannes Ockeghem's "Missa prolationum" from the second half of the 15th century - it can not be determined further - but in classical Ars Nova style, the five-part mass is broken up by works by living composers from Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, England and USA.

In classical music, since the Second World War, several examples have been seen where the cultural heritage of distant times has been actualized by new stylistic tendencies.

Along with the development of repetitive American minimalism in the 1960s and 1970s, a new interest arose in the mesmerizing melodic garlands of Renaissance and Baroque music.

And when the spiritual new age music of the following decades was at its height, it was accompanied by a surprising re-cultivation of Gregorian chant from the Middle Ages. In this way, early and new music have historically had several fruitful encounters, and it is therefore not quite as strange as it initially sounds that Ars Nova has cultivated this divided gaze as its hallmark.

For the vocal ensemble and its conductor, Englishman Paul Hillier, however, it is as much about presenting contrasts as similarities. Last Sunday afternoon in Sct. Mariæ Church in Elsinore, a clear kinship was heard between Ockeghem's development of the canon principle and several of the living composers' work with repetition.

From the obvious connection in Rytis Mazulis' calm and ritual "Canon solus", which opened the concert, to the more general common features with Arvo Pärt's harmonious simplicity and solid authority in "Da pacem", which, however, with its long endured tones also differed clearly from Ockeghem's endless and over-embroidered melisms.

The 12 singers in the ensemble radiated a restrained dignity, which could also be heard in the subtle dynamic interpretation of the at first impression quite monotonous Renaissance art.

Work was done with discrete centers of gravity, but without seriously detaching Ockeghem's mass from its character of functional music; in the end it is not to be changed that the work is from the same time as Sct. Mariæ Church itself, and that it more or less sounds like a human organ.

Despite Ars Nova's dignified and slightly solemn appearance, it was in fact in the brand new and expressive works of Caroline Shaw and John Frandsen, perhaps the two best contemporary vocal composers in the USA and Denmark, respectively, that the ensemble really excelled.

Frandsen's newly composed "O sacrum convivium" impressed with a dramatic play between sober motifs and open harmonies in a process that offered both very close-fitting neighboring tones and a large dynamic range.

The highlight of the concert, however, was Shaw's intimate "And the Swallow" from 2017, which despite its brevity ended up serving as the center of the concert by mirroring both Ockeghem's repetition and Pärt's simplicity.

The 37-year-old Shaw combined here the easily recognizable American emotional readiness with a superior tonal agility, which especially Ars Nova's male voices tied together with an authoritative silk tone.

With the concert program's movement back and forth over the bridge of time, the ensemble and Paul Hillier in many ways showed the way ahead of other institutions in Danish music life that want to unite cultural heritage and art. The music of the Renaissance was, for better or worse, displayed faithfully, while the works of today were allowed to shine in comparison.

Johannes Ockeghem: Missa prolationum and works by contemporary composers. Ars Nova, conducted by Paul Hillier. Sct. Mariæ Church, Elsinore. Was repeated on September 14 in Vor Frue Kirke, Aalborg. The concert from Aalborg will be broadcast on the radio program P2 Koncerten tonight at 19.20. 5 stars out of 6