Review: Norwegian Requiem at LSO St Luke's

Arve Henriksen


Norwegian Requiem
(LSO St. Luke's. 27th November 2013. Review by Alex Roth)


It is difficult to discuss a concert featuring Arve Henriksen without drawing attention to the sound he makes. Clearly one might expect the same to be said of any musician, but Henriksen – perhaps more than any of his contemporaries – has developed such a strikingly original approach to the trumpet that his sound bears particular importance. It is a startlingly sumptuous sound, at times swooping upwards like a shakuhachi flute, at others sighing uncannily like the human voice.

This affinity with vocal sounds made him a particularly apt participant in tonight's concert, which culminated in Andrew Smith's Norwegian Requiem (read Sebastian's interview with Andrew HERE), scored for girls' choir, community choir and organ with an improvised trumpet (and occasional solo vocal) part by Henriksen.

The evening began with Henriksen and his Supersilent bandmate Ståle Storløkken in duet, the latter drawing a wide range of timbres from his several keyboards. Analogue synth melodies morphed into organ-like chorales or denser textural clusters. The continuous set had the air of an improvisation, but the appearance of a few unison melodies suggested some preconceived material. Then again, such is the rapport between Henriksen and Storløkken, honed over nearly two decades, that this could well have been intuitive. Whether improvised or not, the duo's patience in developing their material allowed the music to dictate its own logic, each melodic statement emerging organically from the conversational exchange. Henriksen even instigated a bit of audience participation, gesturing for the LSO St Luke’s Community Choir (seated on stage ready for the second set), then those in the sold-out rostra to repeat a simple three-note figure while he and Storløkken extemporised over the top. As gimmicky as this might sound on paper, there was a very natural and unforced air to the proceedings which suggested that this was simply what the music called for.

After the interval Henriksen, Storløkken and the LSO St Luke’s Community Choir were joined by the Choralia Girls’ Choir of Wells Cathedral and conductor Christopher Finch to perform Andrew Smith's nine-movement piece based loosely on the requiem mass. A British-born composer based in Norway from the age of 14, Smith has written about the influence of the Utøya tragedy on the work, and the music was for the most part imbued with solemnity.

With strong roots in Gregorian chant and medieval choral music, Norwegian Requiem nevertheless sounded modern, thanks largely to a couple of climactic movements which built up densely polyphonic clouds of sound, like more tonal echoes of those in the Requiem by Ligeti (another composer fascinated with medieval compositional techniques). Even in these more intense moments, Smith's palette never strayed too far from strong melodic lines and tonal centres, and there was plenty of space for Henriksen to interject contrasting textures, occasionally adding a touch of electronics and at one point using his own voice to evoke a kind of universal folk quality.

The idea of creating a choral framework for Henriksen's improvising was beautifully conceived and executed, and if the resulting piece never quite elicited the kind of soul-stirring one might have hoped for, it did make for a successful meeting-point of Norwegian and British, notated and improvised.

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