Lars Edlund

Lars Edlund – “Ikoner” – Phono Suecia PSCD 135. Duration: 67:34.
Works by Lars Edlund: “
Ikoner” (1994) – “Paradiso” (1995) – “Två Dikter” (“Two Poems”) (1970) – “Näverbitar” (“Birch Bark Pieces”) (1998)
Participants: Gustaf Sjökvist Chamber Choir, Uppsala Chamber Orchestra, Ulrika Eckstrand [soprano], Jeanette Köhn [soprano], Karl-Magnus Fredriksson [baritone], Bengt Forsberg [piano], Per Myrberg [recitation], Gustaf Sjökvist [cond.]
Texts: Tomas Tranströmer, Dante Aleghieri, Östen Sjöstrand, Gunnar Ekelöf.

This is an essential Swedish choir CD, with many implications.

Lars Edlund (b1922) is one of the veterans of Swedish art music. He belonged in a select group of ambitious, hungry musicians, composers, interpreters and scholars who ventured out of the Swedish provincialism, to Rome and Paris, but foremost to the Schola Cantorum in Basel, where the scholastics of the disciplines that so intrigued and triggered these eager seekers of beauty and essence displayed their workings.
Edlund worked as a church musician in rural Sweden for a number of years, but being afflicted by misgivings about the aesthetics and aims of Lutheran church music he converted to Catholicism.
During his years as a teacher at the Royal University College of Music in Stockholm he wrote the academic texts “
Modus Novus” and “Modus Vetus”, which developed the art of choirs substantially in Sweden.
In 1971 Edlund left city life and settled on the Baltic island of Gotland, where he took up composing full time. He went through severe hardships as he suffered a stroke, but one the less continued – with some necessary breaks – his composing, and the 1970s in fact became one of his most prolific artistic periods.
In the 1980s Edlund moved to Uppsala on the Swedish mainland, and in later years, as he is getting older, he has experimented with forms hitherto untraveled by him.

Lars Edlund had always been a free-spirited artist and person, walking his own path, without glances left and right, which has earned him a well-deserved authority and much earnest respect.

The composer has always been spiritually inclined, and the great existential issues have been real and daily for him.

Tomas Tranströmer is one of the best-known Swedish poets of the 20th century, and he has won acclaim far and wide with his peculiar say of delivering metaphors that really are out of this world in uncanny precision and sudden realizations, while filled with the utmost serene beauty. I even recall seeing posters with his name in San Francisco when I traveled there as a hippie in the early 1970s. He conducted readings there, in the heart of the San Francisco Renaissance quarters.
The poems by Tranströmer that Edlund has chosen for the Tranströmer set of three poems on the CD come from the collections “
Det vilda torget” (“The Wild Town Square”) (1983) and “För levande och döda” (“For the Living and the Dead”) (1989).

Lars Edlund & Tomas Tranströmer
(Photo: H. P. Larsson)

Edlund and Tranströmer have hardships and tragedy in common, since Tranströmer, the most talented of word wranglers and the most prolific of lingual visionaries, also suffered a stroke, which stole away his tool; language… I have met him after the illness hit, and the soft-spoken and precise poet could only nod or shake his head and smile sadly – but with the assistance of close ones he has continued his craft, through the wall of aphasia.

Tranströmer’s part on the CD opens softly, ominous, like a requiem of utter despair, like in the last movement of Tchaikovsky’s
6th Symphony, and the choir enters softly, slowly growing in presence, spreading throughout the listening space, in a decided, lingering walk on the razor’s edge, moving into wilder country as the music and the voices start raging like the autumn sea on the coast of Bohuslän. The piece is “Madrigal”. The text begins: “I inherited a dark wood where I seldom go. But a day will come when the dead and the living change places”. The poems ends: “I have graduated from the university of oblivion, and am as empty-handed as the shirt on the clothes-line”.

The music is vibrant, the words intriguing, the atmosphere dense and shaded in a violet nuance – and the sound of the collected effort is magnificent, pure, downright shattering!

The second section is assigned to Dante’s “
Divina Commedia”. Edlund did study Dante for several years, including learned commentaries on him. Dante’s text deals with Virgil guiding Dante’s alter ego towards Paradise, through Hell and Purgatory, and the journey reaches its completion under the face of God, and Dante is accompanied the last part with the love of his youth; Beatrice. Dante and Beatrice appear as soloists in the first piece. The lightness of touch of Edlund’s sound painting, and the drone-like persistence that is tacitly understood, are both energetic qualities of these Dante interpretations.

Edlund continues and concludes this valuable CD with texts by two Swedish poets of high praise; Östen Sjöstrand and Gunnar Ekelöf. Sjöstrand’s texts origin in his collection “
De gåtfulla hindren” (The Enigmatic Obstacles”) (1961). The setting is different here, with a piano, choir and soprano solo. The piano rumbles like Stravinsky in his fiercest mood at the outset, and later the jerking, hopping female voices of the choir sound like Orff’s “Catulli Carmina”. In Sjöstrand’s second poem – “Metamorfoser vid Siljan” (“Metamorphoses at Siljan Lake”) – a stillness worthy of some of the most transparent works of Giacinto Scelsi or Morton Feldman moves in grace and hovering mist over the surface of the lake…

Gunnar Ekelöf (1907 - 1968) is without doubt the most significant and groundbreaking modern poet of the Swedish 20th century, while also adhering to a cultural line of descent from olden ages. He is a shaman of Swedish poetry, inserting, quite naturally, impulses from ancient Greece and Persia in settings of Nordic midsummer meditations of erotic and otherworldly qualities.

His first poem here opens in a majestic, yet light-footed melody in the brass. The Swedish actor Per Myrberg recites the Ekelöf poems all by himself before the music commences, and Ekelöf’s carved – as if carved in wood – poetry, demands this extraordinary treatment, in expert articulations by the actor.

A thin line of smoke rises from a campfire in a distant Lapland valley in the frosty chill of fall…