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On this newest endeavour, the Vox Clamantis choir, under the direction of Jaan-Eik Tulve, turns its attention towards Norwegian composer Henrik Ødegaard with a fine-drawn programme of liturgical choral music. In a subtle sleight of hand, Ødegaard’s compositions interweave Gregorian chant with Norwegian folk song. The composer employs Gregorian and paschal hymns as source material, from which he then draws his own polyphonic layers and extensions. The main work here is the eight-part Meditations over St. Mary Magdalene’s Feast in Nidaros, based on antiphons found in a 13th-century manuscript from medieval Scandinavia. Ødegaard’s compositional process transfigures these antiphons, sensitively brought to light by Vox Clamantis. On past ECM recordings, the choir has addressed works of Arvo Pärt, Erkki-Sven Tüür and most recently Estonian composer Cyrillus Kreek – an acclaimed recording, which BBC described as “magic of another sphere”. The new album was recorded at the St. Nicholas Dome in Haapsalu, Estonia in 2021.

After dedicating past ECM New Series recordings to the works of contemporary composers Arvo Pärt, Erkki-Sven Tüür, Helena Tulve and most recently Cyrillus Kreek, the Vox Clamantis choir, under the direction of Jaan-Eik Tulve, turns its attention towards Norwegian composer Henrik Ødegaard with a fine-drawn programme of liturgical choral music. Vox Clamantis are at home in the worlds of both old and new music, having addressed Gregorian chant and the polyphony of Pérotin as well as present-day compositions on previous albums. The ensemble and the works of Ødegaard make a perfect match, as the composer’s work, in a subtle sleight of hand, interweaves Gregorian chant with Norwegian folk song.

“In this recording, Gregorian chant is the protagonist,” writes Kristina Kõrver in the liner notes, “sometimes in its pure beauty, sometimes intertwined with the ‘new song’ of Henrik Ødegaard. As an organist and choir conductor, his musical thinking has been strongly influenced by two important traditions, Gregorian chant and Norwegian folk music, both of which have found unique expressions in his work.”

While these two traditions appear inextricably merged into one in the performance of the choir, they are visibly separated from one another in Ødegaard’s scores – the passages of Gregorian chant being marked in square notation, the predominant musical notation form in European vocal music from the 13th to the early 17th century. It’s a symbolic divide, translated gracefully into the music by opening up monophonic plainchant with modern polyphonic ingredients. The composer employs liturgical hymns as source material, from which he then branches off with his own compositional voice.

His empathic embrace of the original scores is as respectful as it is subtle, endowing the early music with different shades of his own creation and thereby achieving a fresh perspective. The approach his heard on Jesu, dulces memoria, composed in 2014/2015, with the title of the original Gregorian hymn maintained. He gently integrates new musical material on O filii et filiae, based on a 15th century paschal hymn, and the approach persists in the following Kyrie and the conductus Pater noster.

The main work here is the eight-part Meditations over St. Mary Magdalene’s Feast in Nidaros, originally conceived to be sung by two separate choirs. It is based on antiphons found in a 13th-century manuscript from medieval Scandinavia. Ødegaard’s compositional process transfigures these antiphons without overriding the original sketches – a process described in the liner notes “as if the composer were literally sitting in front of a fragmentary manuscript, filling in the gaps and adding the missing lines, not as scholar-restorer, but as a poet, a co-creator.”

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