Kjartan Sveinsson's 'Der Klang der Offenbarung des Göttlichen'

Monday, January 09, 2017

Kjartan Sveinsson Kjartan Sveinsson's 'Der Klang der Offenbarung des Göttlichen' (Bel-Air Glamour Records)

The cover art to the Icelandic composer Kjartan Sveinsson’s debut solo album portrays distant waves rolling over rock formations beneath a vast gray sky. The image bespeaks the quiet majesty of Der Klang der Offenbarung des Göttlichen, Sveinsson’s four-act opera, conceived in collaboration with the performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson.

The designation of Sveinsson and Kjartansson’s work as an “opera” is somewhat a misnomer: forgoing any narrative element, the 35-minute piece weds Sveinsson’s music to a series of static set pieces, without actors, animated only by subtle shifts in lighting and stagecraft. Der Klang der Offenbarung des Göttlichen (its creators offer “The Explosive Sonics of Divinity” as the title’s English translation) is inspired by Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness’s novel World Light – and specifically, Sveinsson says, from “Laxness’s cunning texts about the longing for beauty.”

There is such a longing indeed in Sveinsson’s searching score, a meditative sonic canvas for Kjartansson’s exquisite images. Even absent the visual component, Sveinsson’s music summons a hushed awe that makes for a mesmerizing listen on its own. "Teil I" – distinct from the subsequent three acts in its lack of voices – calls to mind Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs with its slow ascent from primordial cellos and basses to stratospheric violins, its obsessive repetition of a mournful motto punctuated by rolling thunder.

Throughout Der Klang, Sveinsson envelops the listener in ravishing string and vocal textures. The choral writing in "Teil II" and "III" might vaguely call to mind sacred Renaissance music or the Bach Passions, but distilled into a stark expanse of slow-moving chords. (In his previous role as keyboardist for Sigur Rós, Sveinsson contributed choral and orchestral arrangements to the band’s albums prior to his departure in 2013; Der Klang’s seductive sonorities call to mind the expansive serenity of Sigur Rós’s early successes.)

As the final act begins, a foreboding drone yields to a soft ray of light; tender vocalise evokes an ancient, mythical music. A mass of voices enters, amplifying the aspiration of one. In the wake of the desolation of the preceding music, the longing for beauty at Der Klang’s conclusion is not despairing, but hopeful.

Kjartan Sveinsson: Der Klang der Offenbarung des Göttlichen
Bel-Air Glamour Records | Released Nov. 20

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Comments [2]

Jeff from Jerusalem, Israel

Highly recommended. This reminds me somewhat of Henryk Górecki' Third Symphony: Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. It has a similar, slow, meditative quality. Mind you Górecki's work concerns a sadder (historical) event.

Jan. 10 2017 08:15 AM
Gary from Bournemouth, UK

The magic went out of Sigur Ros after Valtari.
One listen to Der Klang shows you exactly where it went!
This is stunningly beautiful, an absolute masterpiece from Kjarten.

Jan. 10 2017 06:01 AM

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