Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In review--Contemporary Norway

For All Times
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Kjetil Bjerkestrand
Piano Poems
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

For All Times marks the Norwegian choir Skruk’s 33rd anniversary. Led by Per Oddvar Hildre, Skruk never ceases to surprise me with its delightful musical exchanges. According to the press notes, the innovative choir embarked on a variety of cross cultural projects with musicians from Central Asia, Central and South America and New Orleans. This retrospective CD features highlights from those musical explorations and also of its many soloists over the years including Palestinian Rim Bana on track 13. Many of the soloists have gone onto experience successful musical careers, as they should. The collection of beautiful voices on this recording could only be called sublime.

What stands out for me is the breadth of the choir’s repertoire. You’ll hear Andes flutes (and percussion), on one piece, Silk Road percussion and instruments on another and New Orleans jazz on still another. You’ll also find European-style choral music with crystal clear soprano vocals. The colorful vocal arrangements and orchestration holds my interest as a listener and I find the music deeply relaxing without putting me to sleep. I enjoy international choir projects and feel deeply moved with music that knows no borders.

Whether this choir is new to you or a classic you’ve known about for decades, I recommend this recording as both an introduction to the Norwegian choral tradition and a marker for previous projects that still feel relevant and fresh today.

At Fifty-four years Norwegian pianist/organist/keyboardist Kjetil Bjerkestrand makes his solo debut Piano Poems. While I’m a fan of piano music, I favor jazz, Latin jazz and European classical. Piano Poems will no doubt provide a reflective even meditative pool for many listeners. However, I find the music here slightly melancholic and the electronic elements (though subtle) distract me. The collection of songs falls into new age piano with some hints of classical and other genres.

However, don’t let my personal taste deter you from at least listening to Bjerkestrand’s solo efforts. He has an ear for melody and he’s light on the keys. He also holds an esteemed place in Norway as a session player. The press notes cite, "‘Una corda’ means ‘one string’. This musical expression is used in written piano music to indicate that the composer wants to soften the note, and this is accomplished when the pianist presses the leftmost pedal so that only two of the three strings for each tone are sounded.”

Piano Poems provides agreeable background music for meditation, but not for work that involves driving or operating machinery. The music possesses relaxing qualities and would be ideal for energy and massage therapy, but please check with your clients first since some people do not enjoy synthesizers. Fortunately the core of the album revolves around a Steinway piano, which in itself sounds gorgeous. And fans of new age piano music, such as work by Peter Kater, would enjoy this recording.


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