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Vocal Group SONO

A Vocal Christmas (2018)

4.7

December 25, 2018

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 5.0
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 5.0
Tracks
1 Walking in the Air 4.7
2 Pagten 5.0
3 I en Stjerneregn af Sne 5.0
4 Mit Hjerte Altid Vanker 4.7
5 In the Bleak Mid-winter / Love Came Down at Christmas 4.3
6 Dindaru Dandaru 4.0
7 Nordnorsk Julesalme 4.7
8 En Rose Så Jeg Skyde 4.3
9 Coventry Carol 3.7
10 When You Wish Upon a Star 4.7
11 It's December 4.7
12 Lille Messias 5.0

Recorded 2015 – 2018
Total time: 42:29, 12 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Walking in the Air 5
2 Pagten 5
3 I en Stjerneregn af Sne 5
4 Mit Hjerte Altid Vanker 5
5 In the Bleak Mid-winter / Love Came Down at Christmas 5
6 Dindaru Dandaru 5
7 Nordnorsk Julesalme 5
8 En Rose Så Jeg Skyde 5
9 Coventry Carol 5
10 When You Wish Upon a Star 5
11 It's December 5
12 Lille Messias 5

Holiday hygge is fully upon us with A Vocal Christmas, a compilation out of Denmark which includes SONO, Vox 11, Maestra, EVE, Vocal Line, Naura, and Vokalkompagniet. This record will serve all of your holiday needs: it is both new and familiar, warm and crystalline, worth listening to directly and easy to have on in the background. And after the holidays are over, you won't mind putting it away 'til next year, when a little distance will let you experience its pleasures all over again.

Lille Messias and Dindaru Dandaru are for me the standout tracks, to which I might return in any season. The first is a modern Danish composition, beautifully sung by Vox 11, while the latter is a traditional Latvian folk song that stole my heart away. I've always known Latvia was good at choral music, and EVE's performance here is a real delight.

On the traditional Anglo-Saxon front, In the Bleak Mid-winter / Love Came Down at Christmas is a medley that works unexpectedly nicely, mostly due to the sweet performance from Maestra. These are lovely melodies, beautifully harmonized, and the tempo changes from one carol to the next work wonderfully. Coventry Carol is also sung well, but EVE's modern arrangement clashes with the medieval Voice Squad version that is etched into my brain; your own mileage may vary. Rounding out the widely familiar, Vocal Line gives us a Danish version of Lo How A Rose E'er Blooming, known here as En Rose Så Jeg Skyde and presented in the style of a Scandinavian John Rutter style.

To my non-Danish ears, some of the more local selections are not as automatically endearing. SONO's Pagten and Vox 11's I en Stjerneregn af Sne are themes from kids' TV specials, but to be honest they sound like holi-dazed Coldplay. It doesn't help that the Danish pronunciation of "stjerneregn af sne" sounds like a chorus hook of "stand in line and see", which would fit right in with Chris Martin and the lads. Danish friends, feel free to add this to your encyclopedic collection of anecdotes about how impenetrable outsiders find your beautiful language.

For a compilation, this album has a remarkably uniform sound. All of the female singers have a light and focused tone, like grown women aiming for the timbre of hypertalented young girls, and the male blend from the coed groups fits right in. Like a lot of choral music, these tracks sound substantially better on real speakers than the noise your phone spits out, like a lot of the holiday music you're ready to take a break from at the end of the season, no matter how much you like the tunes.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Walking in the Air 5
2 Pagten 5
3 I en Stjerneregn af Sne 5
4 Mit Hjerte Altid Vanker 5
5 In the Bleak Mid-winter / Love Came Down at Christmas 4
6 Dindaru Dandaru 4
7 Nordnorsk Julesalme 5
8 En Rose Så Jeg Skyde 4
9 Coventry Carol 3
10 When You Wish Upon a Star 5
11 It's December 4
12 Lille Messias 5

A celebration of Danish nationalism and Christmas spirit, A Vocal Christmas is an outstanding multilingual collaborative effort from seven vocal groups in Denmark.

Seven different groups recording with separate studios and singing in different styles has the potential to be a jumbled mess. But with the help of excellent final mastering by Bill Hare, the individual groups have the opportunity to shine and the resulting album is not only evenly presented, but has a multifaceted appeal.

The first four tracks lay an exceptional foundation. The album begins with a hauntingly beautiful rendition of Walking in the Air by Vokalkompagniet in which different sections feature different vocal ranges pared down with minimal percussive sounds to highlight the tight harmonies. Pagten by Vocal Group SONO employs more percussion, individual background parts that sing full phrases with aplomb, and evocative chord choices in key places. Vox 11's I en Stjerneregn af Sne takes a more modern a cappella approach to holiday music, sounding like a pop ballad complete with standard vocal percussion, capturing an innately hopeful vibe. Mit Hjerte Altid Vanker by Vocal Line starts out subdued and employs a fantastic dynamic build that is certainly worth the wait.

Other standouts include Naura's lush ballad Nordnorsk Julesalme; Vocal Group SONO's cover of NSYNC's imaginative rendition of When You Wish Upon a Star; and Vox 11's absolutely joyous Lille Messias. The various artists have created an album with great stylistic versatility and musical integrity to help ring in the holidays. The overall difficulty level of the music on this album is quite high, so even Dindaru Dandaru, with its slight pitch instability, is still impressive.

A delightful end-of-the-year listen for this reviewer, and whether you understand Danish and Latvian or not, A Vocal Christmas is a must-hear and the perfect accompaniment for holiday activities. If you're reading this in the holiday offseason, the recommendation stands, as there is a high level of musical merit shown by each of the seven groups.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Walking in the Air 4
2 Pagten 5
3 I en Stjerneregn af Sne 5
4 Mit Hjerte Altid Vanker 4
5 In the Bleak Mid-winter / Love Came Down at Christmas 4
6 Dindaru Dandaru 3
7 Nordnorsk Julesalme 4
8 En Rose Så Jeg Skyde 4
9 Coventry Carol 3
10 When You Wish Upon a Star 4
11 It's December 5
12 Lille Messias 5

A Vocal Christmas is a collection of holiday songs performed by seven different groups in Denmark. It's a tasty indulgence that I feel should have been added to my holiday listening long before today.

Vokalkompagniet kicks off the album and visits varied a cappella subgenres in Walking in the Air. The haunting minor sound of the song gives it enough appetizing flavor deserving of full attention, especially when the group strays to a jazzy route then goes back to the Aeolian feel. Arrangers Sofie Marie Billekop and Malene Martini Clausen display such fine taste in keeping the song interesting up to the last chord. The group's next song, It's December, is loaded with so many delicious chords, suspensions, and variations that I immediately had the urge to put it on my personal Christmas playlist. Vokalcompagniet has a sonic palette that paints beautiful sounds and I'm very glad this ensemble is part of this compilation.

Vocal Group SONO's piece of the pie features a delectable vocal solo performance by Mille Sigsgaard Christensen in Pagten, backed up by a well-balanced choir. This is further exhibited in When You Wish Upon a Star which also highlights a clear and meaningful execution of the song's lyrics. The sopranos are definitely the star of the song without overshadowing the limelight from the lead vocals of Malte Jefsen.

Vox 11 displays versatility on its performances of I en Stjerneregn af Sne and Lille Messias. I grew up listening to western holiday songs and those familiar holiday tunes are easy to follow, especially by children. However, the Nordic pieces presented by Vox 11 are at the next level of musicality and are insanely good for aural pleasure listening. Smart modulations are also presented by Vocal Line who sings a Scandinavian psalm, Mit Hjerte Altid Vanker, with varied vocal textures and clashing tension notes which I personally enjoy. Vocal Line continues to build wickedly good soundscapes on its next song, En Rose Så Jeg Skyde, showing creative rhythms using the song's lyrics by layering vocal passages and parallel treble harmonies.

EVE has a unique sound among the groups compiled on this album. The rich harmonies cover up the need for a bass anchor. While there are some minor timing and pitch issues on both songs (Dindaru Dandaru and Coventry Carol), these do not pull down my Christmas spirit. It may be an intended effect that EVE's recordings sound more like live performances.

I quite enjoy the masterful execution of In the Bleak Mid-winter / Love Came Down at Christmas by Maestra. It doesn't fully bother me that high frequencies seem to be exaggerated on this track, but I hear a lot of airy sounds that are quite impossible to ignore. This high frequency boost is also heard in Nordnorsk Julesalme performed by Naura.

Though performed by seven vocal artists, the album is impeccably ironed out by Bill Hare who did the final mastering (the tracks are produced by many different production teams). The level of musicality by these Danish groups is extraordinary — one should expect a great listening experience from top to bottom. I am totally listening to this album within a three month period before and after Christmas annually.

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