Bo Holten: Venus' Wheel
01 May 2013
Holten conducts his former choir in his own works
Probably best known in Britain for his 15-year tenure as principal guest conductor of the BBC Singers and for his highly acclaimed recordings of Delius, this disc of a cappella choral music by the Dane Bo Holten (b1948) consists mostly of premiere recordings of works composed (or arranged) between 2005 and 2011. This period was dominated by the composition and subsequent success of his sixth opera The Visit of the Royal Physician (Dacapo DVD, 12111), and it is clear that the dramatic impulse is central to his tonal, expressive idiom. As an unashamed neo-romantic, Holten responds magnificently to a wide range of love lyrics throughout this album. The opening Roman Elegies, based on two Goethe poems, are ravishing choral tone-poems, enhanced by the seamless obbligato of Luc Tooten's cello line. The setting of Psalm 23 continues in this rich vein with increasingly adventurous harmonies (somewhat reminiscent of Schoenberg' s Friede auf Erden), which lead to a central climax.
The disc's most substantial work is the set of five Cantigas d'amigo, 13th - and 14th-century Portuguese lyrics for female voices, in which Holten combines medieval bourdons and canons with minimalist elements. The delicious clusters towards the end of 'Leila Doura' are an unexpected delight. The 'Three Gothic Love Songs' which comprise the Rota Veneris of the disc's title are elaborations of anonymous two- and three-part medieval motets.
In terms of pure vocal pleasure, Holten's arrangement of one of Mahler's Rückert-Lieder takes the first prize. In addition to Johan Reuter's superb baritone solo, special praise should go to Hilde Venken for her stratospheric vocalising. Well worth exploring.