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Arne Nordheim - Draumkvedet

Grex Vocalis / Norwegian Radio Orchestra/ cond Ingar Bergby

Simax – PSC 1169 [2 CDs – 89 mins Recorded 2001]


Njal Sparbo, bass baritone · Unni Lovlid, voice · Torunn Ostrem Ossum, mezzo soprano · Frank Havroy, baritone · Carl Høgset, counter tenor · Rasmus Hogset, counter tenor · Sigve Boe, tenor · Kjell Viig, tenor · Benjamin Isaksen, boy soprano · Ashild Braee Nyhus, Hardanger fiddle · Mats Claesson, electro acoustis


This work is an epic in every sense of the word, with all the hallmarks of a “classic” of its time. Written for performance in a big space (as part of the Lillehammer Olympic celebrations), by an important contemporary composer, it weaves ancient and modern musical languages into a tapestry of enormous complexity and originality.


The story of Draumkvedet (Dream Ballad) has its roots in medieval times and draws both from beliefs of newly arrived Christianity and much older Norse traditions, passing down through the ages within the tradition of unaccompanied folk singing. Olav Asteson falls asleep on Christmas Eve and does not wake until Epiphany. We share his dream and apocalyptic vision as he follows the path of the dead between Purgatory and Paradise to the Day of Judgement.


Arne Nordheim's orchestration evokes all the quality of a dream as it shifts seamlessly between traditional, employing folk instruments such as the Hardanger fiddle and willow flute, and contemporary electronic effect. It is seasoned with his characteristic “signatures” such as rapid figurations in the percussion and the ringing of tubular bells.


His use of the human voice is often unconventional, he calls for whispering and declamation and there are some sections where the demands are so extreme that the singers' control is pushed to the limit.

The forces employed meet every challenge with consummate skill. Unni Lovlid's vocal line as the primeval woman defies description and much of Njal Sparbo's (Olav Asteson) music is unaccompanied and severely exposed. Many of the soloists fill multiple roles, and all are deserved of praise.

Dramatic tension runs high throughout the work, the plot twists and scenes shift with trancelike spontaneity and the very intricacy of the work demands repeated listening. Very strongly recommended.

Serena Fenwick

See also http://www.visearkivet.no/ draumkvedet .htm