Henning Sommerro, Borders | The Vinyl Anachronist

henning sommerro

It’s the dead of winter right now, and I often spend the bad weather days listening to gentle and introspective music while staring out the windows at all that snow. My musical choices usually gravitate toward 2L Recordings of Norway, the perfect music for the short winter days: choirs recorded in a huge church, maybe something more experimental but still quiet and focused on how sound can float and change through a living space. This winter, I received the latest from 2L, Borders from Henning Sommerro, and I have two problems. First, this is the first winter in my new home, and it doesn’t really snow on the coast. Rain, yes. Snow, no. Second, Borders is lively, dynamic and exciting–not the normal February music.

Words and Music by Marc Phillips

Henning Sommerro is a Norwegian musician and composer who borrows liberally from European folk music to produce a sound that seems downright Bernstein-esque compared to most Scandinavian offerings. Borders is a substantial work for orchestra and soloist that uses history, folklore and current events to tell a three-part story–“Solstice,” “Ostara” and “Borders”–about redemption and resolution. The first two sections tell the story of a man, long ago, encountering visions during the summer solstice and vernal equinox which add to the mysteries and unpredictability of nature. The final eponymous section jumps forward to 2016, when Europe witnessed an influx of refugees that hadn’t been seen since the end of World War II.

This is serious subject matter, of course, but the tone of the three pieces is hardly sad or pinned down by the weight of trying times. Henning Sommerro provides a fascinating structure for these pieces, especially in terms of the soloists–harmonica player Sigmund Groven brings an almost American flavor (hence the reference to “Lenny”) to “Solstice,” pan flute player Roar Engleberg dominates “Ostara,” and violin player Marianne Thorsen–a 2L mainstay–is the soloist for “Borders.” It’s fascinating to hear the harmonica and the pan flute in such a magnificent composition, especially when they are recorded with such clarity. That, of course, is what makes Borders so memorable.

I did listen to Borders with two very different systems–each one brought out distinctive strengths in these visions from Henning Sommerro. The first system was one of the biggest I’ve reviewed–YG Acoustics Sonja 3.2 loudspeakers, Burmester 909 Mk. 5 power amp, Burmester 088 preamp and much more. The second was a headphone rig fronted by the new Enleum HPA-23RM headphone amp and a pair of ZMF Atrium Closed headphones. The big system captured all those moments of excitement through the sheer force of the dynamics, and the headphone rig let me squeeze on through to discover the meaning of the music and the small details residing in the periphery. In “Solstice,” there’s plenty of thunder from the tympani–with the big system I felt it shake the room, and the headphone rig let me hear the interface between the mallets and the drumskins in a way I haven’t experienced until now.

Henning Sommerro has given 2024 a vibrant and energetic start with Borders. 2L Recordings are often breathtaking in their realism, but in this case the music is infused with adrenaline and that somehow prompts me to look forward to the coming year.

2l recordings
Photo courtesy of 2l Recordings

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