Our final concert of the Lund Choral Festival was that of the Sofiavokalensemble of Stockholm, a renowned choir that has been winning competitions for many years,.
I had always thought of the group as a Youth Choir, but, for this concert at least, there were a number of older singers in the mix, which I liked. Why not? They are led by legendary choral conductor, Bengt Ollén
I loved watching this choir enter the stage with confidence and pride, and I loved how they interacted with each other as they sang. The concert was almost two hours in length, about twice the length of the other Lund Festival concerts we heard, and the repertoire was substantial. (See below.). They opened with Lorenzoi Donati's "Sicut servus," the same opener Kamer used in winning the European Grand Prix in 2019. Written for four spatially-separated choirs, it is a tour de force.
Because the festival choirs we heard offered little music written pre-20th century, I particularly appreciated Sofiavokalensemble’s beautiful performance of Brahms’ Warum ist das Licht gegeben? Throughout that giant motet, as well as their entire program, the choir sang with accuracy, clear, even tone, impeccable intonation, and a convincing visual presentation. These singers knew what they were singing about! After the concert, I was charmed to see how many in the audience were apparently former singers of Mr. Ollén’s, each of whom he greeted by name and with warm hugs.
I am struck by how inextricably linked the sounds of all of the choirs heard so far are to the acoustics in which I assume they typically rehearse and perform, and how those acoustics inform their choice of repertory as well. I wonder if, perhaps, we American conductors too often choose pieces that don’t match the spaces where we “live.” It’s not that we can’t pull off an English Renaissance motet with some degree of success; it’s just that it’s often not a perfect fit for us.
The music programmed was almost entirely slow and sustained. It was ravishing to hear that repertoire sung in the two resonant venues of the Lund Festival. At the same time, I was ready to hear some music that was fast, edgy, and gritty, but it didn’t happen. The conductors may have been too smart for that.