I've owned this CD for nearly a year and haven't known how to talk about it. Probably an Amazon review can't handle the level of introspection it induces. It's one of the most striking albums I've ever heard; I listened to almost nothing else for the first month, immersed in its musical intelligence and emotional nakedness. Later I started studying Norwegian in order to sing the songs.
Håkon Daniel Nystedt, the choir's musical director, has done a remarkable thing in combining pieces from the folk and classical repertoires, with a musical sophistication that destabilizes traditional hymnody and folksong only to intensify their quality of longing. This layering of the tonal and the modal produces extraordinary chord progressions, shifting constantly between harmony and real dissociation but always seeming, like the aurora borealis, to have some purpose beyond one's grasp. The layering of Grieg's "Blegnet, Segnet" with the folk song "Herr Ole" produces increasingly painful dissonances to evoke the breakdown of the world and the emotions at a young lover's death. The combination of Rachmaninoff's "Blagoslovi" and the hymn "Jesus, din søte forening å smake" (which on the page, surprisingly, turns out to have an awful, jigging dactylic rhythm) creates a hushed perfect balance of stasis and movement. Liv Ulvik and Helga Gunnes are fine soloists, and the incomparable Kirsten Bråten Berg (a search on whose name led me to this album) contributes four 'stev' poems from Setesdal. Sondre Bratland's voice is less impressive from a technical standpoint, but the quality of his feeling is profound.
All of which is only the sum of the album's parts. What goes beyond that is - the sense of something beyond it: poignancy, longing, 'lengsel'. Innocence and experience: the Norway of the old Lutheran church and of the political anguish of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. A religious ardor that never takes a misstep into sentimentality. The austere consolation of the high latitudes: ice, light, integrity.
I keep playing the album and giving it to people I love.