Andrew Smith’s A Norwegian Requiem is a large-scale choral work that intertwines electronica, Arve Henriksen’s ethereal trumpet playing and vocal improvisations with a choral score loosely based on the Roman Catholic Mass. The nine-part work includes a “Kyrie eleison”, sung beautifully in plainsong by Choralia, the 24-voiced chamber girls’ choir from Wells Cathedral School, and “Hosanna in Excelsis”, briefly sung at full throttle by the combined voices of Choralia and the 80-plus LSO Community Choir. Both were supplemented by Henriksen’s otherworldly timbres and the ethereal textures of Ståle Storløkken’s church organ-like synthesised sound.
But this was much more than a mingling of established practices. Smith started writing his score just before the Utøya massacre in July 2011, and his completed work now marks and bears witness to that event. It unfolds as a continuum of fluctuating textures and shaded emotions in which anger is tempered by resilience and grief. At St Luke’s, triumphant hosannas subsided to a drone, solo trumpet set up choral themes and a pure soprano voice gradually gained a darker shade.
The piece opens with “Introitus – Requiem Aeternam” and finishes with “In Paradisum”, but also includes biblical references to childhood suffering – Herod’s infanticide sets the tone – that were introduced with spine-chilling restraint. Occasionally, dense-textured synthesisers would sweep like an ominous wind, diatonic harmonies would tense with atonal ambiguities or trumpet would enter at an angle. For the most part, though, Smith’s work was infused with the purity of Henriksen’s trumpet and the voices of the choir.
The evening opened with three improvised duets from Henriksen and Storløkken that fully revealed their close control of texture and nuance. Theirs is a music of open spaces and fluctuating time, of simple themes and unhurried lines. They began with barely audible trumpet and a hint of Moog, and finished with the audience gently humming harmonies with the LSO choir. In between, Henriksen surrounded each tone with a breath and sang in his eloquent and evocative falsetto.
Occasionally, the melodic snatches would be transformed by samplers into grinding industrial sounds. But the contrast only underscored the beauty of Henriksen’s voice as it swooped through the cadences of Middle Eastern scales.