Religious and poetic work by Stefaan Vanheertum

Ghent composer Stefaan Vanheertum has just released his new CD Suoni Celesti. The CD contains choral works he wrote between 2014 and 2021. The collection is the result of a concert that took place last September.

Suoni Celesti (heavenly sounds) consists of religious and liturgical works and pieces based on poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, Peter Verhelst, Nadine Anne Hura, Edgar Allen Poe and Emily Dickinson. Also included are four short pieces on haikus by Herman Van Rompuy. Performers are the Ghent Singers, Ateneres, Koriolis and Arabesk.

The Roman Catholic religious experience is addressed in three works: Lux Aeterna, where the mystery of eternal life is exuberantly highlighted on the one hand but also nuanced via some dissonances. O Magnum Mysterium is performed in a relatively light setting, with the use of hoketus (hiccups) for the upper voices and a convincingly rousing aleluia. The third is an Agnus Dei, a prayer for peace composed as an antiphon.

4 Haikus, written by Belgian former politician Herman Van Rompuy, deal with the four seasons. These works are simply and accessibly scored for a cappella female choir and soloists.

Er was eens water (Once upon a time, there was water) is inspired by a poem by Flemish poet Peter Verhelst, written in response to the drowning death of a young refugee in the Mediterranean. The result is a sombre musical tale in which the ending “As loud as we could, we tried to keep thinking there was once, there was once” is respectfully laid down. Pieter Coene, who reads the poem, demonstrates the poignancy of the Dutch language as a recitation art.

Mother Earth, based on a poem by New Zealand’s Nadine Anne Hura, and Spirits of the dead, a song to a text by Edgar Allan Poe, depict finitude (corona and climate crisis) and death.

The CD’s pièce de résistance is The Voice, a World War I poem written by Alfred Mills in the trenches of Ypres. The poem tells the story of a frontline soldier whose thoughts are with his lover (soprano solo) and who gives him courage not to give up. The choir comments, in keeping with musical tradition, with the mood changing in the middle of the piece when it turns out that “the voice” is not his beloved but actually represents death. At that point, the choir shifts into a kind of trance through the sustained violence. The descending chromatic line of the soprano solo when singing “I’ll always be there to hold your hand” is both compelling and fatalistic. The Voice is richly upholstered, its repetitive melody lines ingeniously interwoven.

The CD closes with 3 Rilke Songs for female choir/ensemble and horn, written in response to Rilke’s visit to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris in 1902. It is a light-hearted and funny description of successively the panther, the flamingos and the parrots who, despite their captivity, try to make the best of it.


WHAT: Suoni Celesti, vocal music by Stefaan Vanheertum

WHO: Ghent Singers, dir. Joris Derder
Arabesk, dir. Marc Van den Borre
Koriolis, dir. Joris Derder
Ataneres ensemble

Jolien de Gendt (soprano)
Evi Roelants (soprano)
Kristien Nijs (soprano)
Lucas Cortoos (baritone)
Pieter Coene (choir & recital)
Thomas Gustin (horn)
Frederik Martens (piano)

TO ORDER:               (€12)


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