Living in Norway, one thinks often about light: the sun’s absence in winter, its bright return in spring. Mari Samuelsen notes our spiritual connection to light, as found in folk traditions, rituals and holidays. We all long for the light, physical and spiritual, and sprinkle our conversation with fitting associations: “enlighten me,” “shine some light on the situation,” “ray of light,” “light at the end of the tunnel,” “I saw the light.”
As one might guess, Lys is Norwegian for light. Samuelsen’s centuries-spanning selection of female composers, from Hildegard von Bingen to Hania Rani and even Beyoncé, might be called enlightening. (An ironic aside: this is not the first time a Beyoncé piece has appeared on our site, as ‘Olafur Arnalds covered a Destiny’s Child track on Late Night Tales). Considering the breadth of styles and the length of their genesis, Samuelsen does an incredible job establishing a uniform flow, her violin the thread that connects these composers in timbre and tone.
Considering the pedigree of composers, Samuelsen makes a bold choice in opening with a piece from Miredi, whose Stardust was released during the pandemic to critical acclaim. Inspired by the shuttered Berlin clubs, Mired offered an alternative way to interpret rhythm and trance. “White Flowers Take Their Bath” is a swiftly-blossoming, fully orchestrated piece, and makes a confident overture. The violinist then tackles the work of another young composer, Dobrinka Tabakova, primarily known for her choral works. Samuelsen makes no distinction between old and young, living and deceased; she chooses works that fit. In so doing, she not only draws lines across the generations, but points arrows in directions listeners might travel.
One of these directions is from modern composition to electronic, as Samuelsen highlights the intimate side of Hannah Peel. Peel has her own new album out as well, The Unfolding, recorded with Paraorchestra, but broke into the mainstream with last year’s club-oriented album Fir Wave. “Signals” is powerful and poignant, a new angle, suitably suffused with light. Late in the album, Samuelsen returns to Peel with the sparkling “Reverie,” which first appeared on 2015’s Rebox 2.
Caroline Shaw’s “The Orangery & the Beech Tree” is one track here, but two on Shaw’s Orange, recorded with Attaca Quartet. While the tonal shift is apparent mid-piece, the beginning and end surround the plucked middle. This is followed by a pair of pieces that specifically reference the light: Laura Masotto’s “Sol Levante” and Margaret Hermant’s “Lightwell.” Masotto is already well-established, while Hermant is beginning her career, following the release of the single “Under” in 2021, also on Deutsche Grammofon. The triptych of Hermant’s “Lighwell,” von Bingen’s “O vis eternitatis” and Beyoncé “Halo” is likely unprecedented, a smooth segue between seemingly disparate sources, the latter track the entry point for mainstream audiences.
A blink-and-you’ll miss-it piano piece by Laura Auerbach ~ like the green flash at twilight ~ leads into Hildur Guðnadóttir’s “Baer.” The artist has risen from the ranks of the lauded and new to the honored and established over the past decade, a career trajectory we expect many of Samuelsen’s contemporaries to follow. This tender selection is one of the album’s most understated, but seeps across the sonic field like the first hint of Icelandic light. The always enchanting Hania Rani finds prismatic refraction in “La Luce,” Italian for (you guessed it) the light, the idea expanded by Clarice Jensen in “Love Abounds in Everything,” as light is connected to love and the spiritual association is cemented. Now all that remains is to dance, an opportunity provided via the Anna Meredith composition “Midi” (for solo violin and electronics). For the first time, the album adds pulse to tempo, the healing rays of Vitamin D spreading across the earth. (Richard Allen)