Danish ensemble serious and adventurous
Richard Todd, The Ottawa Citizen
Wednesday, 21. November
This is a month for choral music in Ottawa. Most of Ottawa’s important choruses have, or are about to give concerts and two of the world’s finest chamber choirs have appeared here. First there were the King’s Singers at Christ Church Cathedral and last evening the Danish ensemble ARS NOVA gave a splendid concert in the University of Ottawa’s Tabaret Hall.
The five women and six men who make up the group sang a selection of works new and old, with nothing in between, under the direction of the celebrated Paul Hillier. Early music was represented by the likes of Orlando Gibbons and Jacob Obrecht, while our age found its voice in the work of Luciano Berio and the great Danish composer Per Nørgård. The program opened with a curious but effective collage of two versions of ”Cries of London”, the first by a very Elizabethan Gibbons, the other by Berio. The mixture of the two styles, Berio’s being definitely avant-garde, was fascinating, to say the least.
Two renaissance motets, sung to perfection, were followed by two short items by Nørgård. The first of these, ”Maya danser”, featured some amazing harmonies, rendered with amazing precision an musicality. Its companion piece, ”I hear the Rain” was dreary by comparison, and a bit gimmicky.
The second half of the program, some of which was sung after the deadline for this review, was given largely to Nørgård, and included his fascinating, extended work ”Wie ein Kind”. The performance were uniformly persuasive, notwithstanding a certain quirkiness in the composition. The program was rounded out with Clement Janequin’s 1528 ”Le Chant des oiseaux”. It is tempting to compare Ars Nova with the all-male King’s singers, though the differences are significant. Both are supremely musical, but the Danish choir is mixed, almost twice the size and, especially, more serious and adventourous in programming.