The Stockholm Syndrome Ensemble is Simon Crawford-Phillips (piano and harpsichord), Malin Broman (violin and viola), Malin William-Olsson (violin), Johannes Rostamo (cello) and Rick Stotijn (double bass). Based, as their name suggests, in Stockholm, the group has a reputation for assembling innovative programmes united around a theme or idea.

Voices of Angels

Voices of Angels, their first release for Sweden’s BIS label, brings together a suitably otherworldly collection of works connected with angels. Its centrepiece is the two-movement work of the same name by Brett Dean (b. 1961), scored (like the Trout Quintet) for violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano. The opening movement, Evocation, is alone worth the price of admission – ephemeral, gossamer-threaded textures that hang mysteriously in space, with particularly extraordinary violin and viola playing from guests Andrej Power and Lawrence Power respectively.

It sits comfortably alongside the intense spirituality of Tatar-Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931), whose Ein Engel is a setting for mezzo-soprano and double bass of a poem by Else Lasker-Schüler in which Christianne Stotijn’s velvety intonations weave intricately around an increasingly strident bass part. Similar themes of earthly angelic visitation characterise “Der Engel” from Richard Wagner’s heavenly Wesendonck Lieder (1857), and Stotijn is equally mesmerising in two songs by Rachmaninov: in Muzyka (Music, 1912) “a divine face / An elusive flash of beauty / Like a vision alive, surfaced…” and “Zdes’ khorosho” (How fair this spot, 1902) finds the protagonist alone in nature in the presence of the divine.

Also approaching the divine was JS Bach in 1750, close to death and totally blind after eye operations for cataracts, dictating the chorale prelude Vor Deinen Thron tret ich hiermit (Before thy throne I now appear, BWV668) from his bed. It appears here in a transcription for string quartet that precedes Gubaidulina’s enthralling unearthly Meditation (1993) on this same work, scored for string quartet and harpsichord. Hymn II (1974) for cello and double bass from Gubaidulina’s friend Alfred Schnittke (1934-98) concludes this truly extraordinary collection of works in which, in the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, “Angels (it’s said) are often unable to tell whether they move amongst the living or the dead.”

Sensitive, sympathetic and deeply nuanced performances are complemented by an incredible surround sound recording from the BIS team in which each delicate intonation is cloaked in rich silence.

Title: Voices of Angels
Music by:
Brett Dean, Sofia Gubaidulina, Sergei Rachmaninov et al.
Performers: Stockholm Syndrome Ensemble, Andrej Power v, Lawrence Power va, Christianne Stotijn ms
Label: BIS BIS2344