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Audiophile 5 stars

April 3, 2022

Rob Pennock

Audiophile Sound (UK)
Lux Aeterna
Choral music by György Ligeti and Zoltán Kodály
Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Marcus Creed

OUR Recordings CD, PCM and DSD downloads (DXD and DSD from nativedsd.com)
Performance: 5
Denmark has a distinguished choral tradition, but the professional Danish National Vocal Ensemble, was formed in 2007 and this album features, after Bartok, the last century’s greatest Hungarian composers. Given that Kodály is thought of as a traditionalist and Ligeti as avant-garde, you might expect a challenging clash of styles, whereas what you actually get is a series of pieces and folk-song arrangements, which are very much of a kind, often influenced by traditional and Eastern European liturgical music.
The programme opens with Lux Aeterna (1966) by Ligeti, which contrasts polyphony, plainsong and more rhythmically emphatic male chanting in a very accessible language. Night and Morning (1955) are beautiful, heavily chromatic, verging on atonal, polyphonic soundscapes and yet from the same year the Songs of Mátraszentimre are more traditional, bright bouncy folk-settings. You get much the same in the first of the Three Phantasies, but the other two are folk-song seen through the more ascerbic prism of 1982 disjointedness. Surprisingly the broken lines of Kodaly’s Evening Song are equally challenging and assertive, before the final two pieces bring more traditional repose.
The singers appear and sound to have been spread out on a wide stage in two rows (social distancing?). Their intonation and ensemble are perfect, the sometimes challenging tessitura, intricate rhythms and polyphony are effortlessly surmounted and in the numerous long unison chords and notes, their evenness of tone, vibrato and dynamic is outstanding. Choral singing doesn’t come any better than this and Marcus Creed’s conducting is equally superb.
Sound

Balance: 5
Inner balance: 5
Detail and clarity: 5
Dynamic range: 5

The programme was recorded in 2 channel DXD, but the DSD512 and 24/192 versions were compared.
There is absolutely no excess reverberation and because there are only two channels, unlike so many multi-channel recordings, you don’t get the impression the performers are floating, indeterminately, in mid-air. The DSD far more faithfully recreates the hall ambience, so you feel you are in the hall as opposed to looking in. Clarity is exemplary; you can hear each voice and as mentioned above, that their vibrato is perfectly matched. As is always the case, the DSD conversion better recreates vocal timbres, so the performers sound more natural and present and there is a greater sense of projection, while the exemplary dynamic range adds to the sense of realism.
Apart from one or two patches of purple prose (which seem de rigueur in discussions about composers such as Ligeti) and a description of Reggel (Morning) that, to me, bears little resemblance to the music as performed, Jens Cornelius’s programme notes are excellent and English and German translations are available from the ourrecordings.com website.
All-in-all then, something of a show-stopper. April 2022, Rob Rob robpennock@hotmail.co.uk