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Berlioz, Saint-Saëns, Honegger, Britten, Messiaen and Penderecki aside, there haven’t been many modern attempts to render the Nativity story in music, but it always seems to yield something special. This beautiful oratorio marks something of an epoch in Icelandic music. It was premiered a few days after Christmas 2001 in Reykjavik’s Hallgrimskirkja and recorded for broadcast there a year later, in Christmas week. Stjórnand’s distinctive mix of bruised ruggedness and other-worldly soprano singing works perfectly for Speight’s blending of texts from Psalm 130, Isaiah and Luke’s Gospel. The orchestral parts are sparing, intense, often startlingly dramatic, and a near-faultless recording delivers the music with physical immediacy.

BRIAN MORTON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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