Norwegian composer Stale Kleiberg is considered a “modern romantic,” which means that his music has that lushness and sweep to it while still preserving contemporary, streamlined touches. 2L Recordings has been releasing Kleiberg’s material for years, everything from masses to choral works to operas. I’ve listened to almost all of it, I think, and yet I feel there is still a mysterious element to this composer’s output, an elusive feeling of distance which I think is created out of Kleiberg’s ambitious nature. On Stale Kleiborg’s latest recording for 2L, Do You Believe In Heather?, much of that coolness is ameliorated by the intimacy of these four chamber works. This is Kleiberg at his most accessible, and it’s a pleasure to hear what’s on his mind.
I’m not suggesting that Stale Kleiberg’s music is cold or unemotional. But he is one of those Scandinavian composers who project a sense of resolve, a stalwart approach that comes from living in a slightly less forgiving world than most. Time after time I’ve mentioned this as part of a bigger theory that classical music digs into folk traditions so that it’s often easy to guess a composer’s nationality. I love Norwegian compositions, especially their pure beauty and delicacy, but there’s often a purpose behind the music, a sense that we need to enjoy this music now because there’s work to do later.
These four Stale Kleiberg chamber pieces–String Quartet No. 3, Do You Believe in Heather?, Trio Luna and The Light Smith–carry on those traditions on the surface, but there’s something else afoot. The sense of the beauty around us is strong across the entire program, and there isn’t a moment when the listener isn’t offered a stunning vista to view, or a truly romantic idea to consider without quid pro quo. The string quartet is ostensibly about summer, so it has a cheerful demeanor, despite the fact that you can hear the strong wind blowing off the ocean in every note. Trio Luna is a piece for flute, viola and harp–not a common trio but one full of vibration and echoes and friction. The Light Smith is yet another trio, this one for mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland, piano and clarinet. Kielland possesses an unusually strong and clear voice, one that’s perfectly capable of inducing goosebumps.
Most 2L releases offer a complex theme, a reason why the music in question was recorded. In this case, Do You Believe in Heather? is simply an occasion to spend time with Stale Kleiberg, and have an intimate conversation with him about music and how it relates to time and space. Each of these chamber pieces invoke a setting, but you’re not required to draw obscure parallels of compare different pieces across decades or even centuries. Do You Believe in Heather? is lively, engaging and eager to sweep you off your feet with its modern romanticism and little more, and that’s still quite a lot.
[Images courtesy of 2L Recordings]