English translation by Hildebjörg Ha, arrangement by Tessa La and Anni Jowett
Text and photo: Øyvind Futsæter.
I would like to participate in this kind of event every day, the whole year, Stephen Ackles said to the audience, who filled the Mission Church at Alværn to beyond bursting point on Sunday afternoon.
Together with Thomas and Turid Stanghelle, Alexander, Natasja and Igor Rybak and the Church’s children choir, he created a pre-Christmas mood which probably is still in the bone marrow of the audience.
Stephen Ackles, who is perhaps more known for genres other than Christmas songs and gospel music, said he got to know Nesodden’s promising pop artist and tenor Thomas Stanghelle during a cabin trip a year ago. They had then found so many songs they both liked, that they decided to cooperate. This summer the same group held a summer concert at the South-Coast, and there would most likely be more cooperation in the future. This Sunday’s “We sing the Christmas in”, in the Mission Church showed to the full that this is what the audience also wants.
The children’s choir opened the concert with an evocative presentation of the Christmas gospel, with recitation and song. A couple of traditional Christmas songs were sung by the whole assembly, but the rest of the program was characterized by a passionate mix of classical pearls, gospel-influenced songs and compositions by the families Rybak and Stanghelle together with Stephen Ackles. It thus became a quite different way to sing the Christmas in, but no less evocative and moving.
The whole group started with “O Holy Night”, and the level was thereby set for an interesting harmony between the more classical songs by Thomas and Turid Stanghelle, and Stephen Ackles’ characteristic country-gospel style. Igor and Alexander Rybak accompanied on violin, while Natasja Rybak played the piano. The program then continued with solo performances by Thomas from Händel’s Messiah, and by Turid from Carola Häggkvist’s “Himlen I min favn”, where both showed quality of most outstanding class. The following violin duet between father and son Rybak was no less impressive.
After that, one of the concert’s many highlights came; the duet between Stephen Ackles and Thomas Stanghelle in “His hand in mine”, a harmony with power and atmosphere which could be felt way into the spine. That could not be felt less in Stephen’s next solo song, “Somebody bigger than you and I”, presented as his personal belief. His performance of “Precious Lord” was also very personal and sincere.
Harmonic joint song
After having showed international class by their violin play, Igor, Natasja and Alexander Rybak surprised by first taking part in a polyphonic joint song, and Alexander even managed an impressive and expressive solo song in “His eyes on the sparrow”. In the Rybak family Nesodden really has artists of high and diverse class.
Thomas Stanghelle presented a newly written duet, which he performed together with his mother, Turid: “Perfect Harmony”, a beautiful melody, which also was available in a fresh CD single. After that, Thomas sung his well-known “Angel of Life”, performed accompanied by a video from the big Chinese TV-series about Mark Wang. Thomas told that he will go to China again on December 27th, to participate with Mark in connection to this series.
Liverpool’s football song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, showed that the whole group could play and sing in harmony with precision, power and elegance, like they also did in a varied American Christmas medley. Liv Carina Faarlund, Turid’s young song student, was also given a chance, and charmingly sang “Den store stjerna”.
The end, with the whole ensemble and the children’s choir, was the powerful song “Den hellige stad”, where Turid’s 85-year old mother, Matilde Marker sang solo on the first verse, with clear and distinct voice, and demonstrated thus that three generations participated in this concert, which turned out to be quite different from the usual “sing the Christmas in” concert. Applause and ovations without any ending showed that pastor and leader Per Noreng, with good conscience could conclude that everybody seemed to have gained something important and good out of this afternoon. And Stephen Ackles was no less satisfied:
– Now I have to go home and digest this in peace and quiet, there were too many strong impressions at one time for me to be able to absorb them all at once. But one thing is for sure: Further musical cooperation between him and the families Rybak and Stanghelle from Nesodden would continue.