Finally it has happened: The new Helium Vola Album, which Ernst Horn announced more than a year ago, has been released. This delay is due to the fact that our beloved composer cannot work without a concept not matter how hard he tries. Thus, the album is not called “Quodlibet” (Lat. “as you like”) anymore but “Wohin?” (“Where to?”). And it truly is kind of a situation of life analysis with a question mark remaining at the end.
“Wohin?” is a double album just like its predecessor “Für Euch, die Ihr liebt” but with more melancholy and despair. Ernst is consistent in following the trend toward more ensemble pieces – only four songs in a narrower sense can be found among the 19 tracks. The most beautiful discovery I made and almost a revelation are the duets. Here, Ernst’s beautiful melodies can freely unfold and at the same time different musical themes can sound with or against each other. No easy listening, but who expected this anyway? Those, who are more into simple and driving rhythms, have to wait until Fama Tuba2, the sixth piece on the first CD. They might want to start listening with the second CD, which gives an easier start and in total is more energetic than the first one, which on the other hand is full of sad, longing melancholy. I suggest the same strategy for Helium Vola newbies, who have not yet been in touch with classical music. It does not change the discovery of the album considerably, since one feels like walking through a labyrinth with the pieces. A journey, that ends neither at the exit nor does it end in the center. This might appear to be a bit chaotic. Nevertheless it is absolutely worthwhile and enriching to follow Ernst on his search and “Wohin?” is once more a benefaction for the (black) soul.
The album starts with Nubibus atris, where Sabine Lutzenberger introduces two musical themes before they are brought together. The second quite monotonous theme is picked up in Uf der linden and developed into a beautiful melody. At the beginning, Sabine and Andreas Hirtreiter follow the structure of Dietmar von Aists poem just to join in together like the voices of the two lovers at the end of the piece with the lyrics of the first to stanzas of „Slâfest du, friedel ziere“ by the same poet.
The next song is the Galician-Portuguese A Virgen Santa Maria, which will for sure remind the “older” fans of “Non sofre Santa Maria” on Qntal I, because just like this it is from the “Cantigas de Santa Maria”. As in the Qntal piece, Ernst stays close to the original in melody and rhythm, but makes free use of the stanzas. The changing pairings of voices from the ensemble make the piece intriguing and the bells are fascinating. The following Witwenklage (“The widow’s lament”) is presented by Gerlinde Saemann and mostly kept for two voices, thought the chorus is in four voices. These different voices seem to originate from different distances, and thus one feels completely surrounded by the lamentation “der tot hat mir benommen” (“Death took away from me”). Tanderadan as a round dance is leading deeper into the labyrinth towards Fama Tuba2, which is more spoken than sung (a first version can be found on the first Helium Vola album). It is the first piece with a real beat and unrestrained use of the synthesizer. But afterwards it is getting very calm again with the romance E Raynauz about Rainaut and Erembor, wonderfully interpreted by Sabine and as almost all love songs of Helium Vola in Old-French or Provençal, respectively. The second “real” song on this first CD, Die Andre (“The other one”), is again very sad and melancholic with nice lyrics by Ernst about unrequited love. He himself compared it with the fairy tale of “The little mermaid”. People, who are able to sit still between these two songs during Ich will den sumer gruezen (“I want to greet summer”), the only piece full of unreserved and overwhelming happiness, are simply hopeless cases. Napaktun speaks is a very complex conclusion of this first CD. Phrases taken from the time of the crusades sung monotonous and clear are set against an imploring Maya prophecy translated to English. In between one seems to hear the lost voice of Napaktun himself within the distorted sounds of the synthesizer. During the last third of this piece, the last part of the prophecy “Ash does not suffer” is interpreted as a kind of hymn by Andreas Hirtreiter.
The second CD starts with The unquiet grave, an English folk song from the 15th cent., which has been set to music by many others before. This version by Helium Vola is of course different and settled somewhere between sad ballade (as from, e. g., Joan Baez or Luke Kelley) and danceable Irish folk (as from Faith&The Muse). Joel Frederiksen and Hannah Wagner harmonize beautifully with each other. The following, very danceable Heia wie sie sang is again part of the Carmina Burana. Amor m’a posto is a poem by Petrarca but differs totally from the two Petrarca madrigals on the last album. Sabine’s flexible voice communicates the futility that counteracts the energetic burst of intensive synthesizer loops. Hannah Wagner is falling back into painful melancholy in Rose am Dorn (“Rose at the thorn”), which appears as the companion piece to Witwenklage on the first CD. The futile anger of Excalibur has been available on youtube since a long time. One has to get used to the fact that the low frequencies of Joel Frederiksen’s wonderful bass are cut at the beginning. The next piece DirIch is a very experimental composition by Sabine Lutzenberger (her daughter is playing the violin here) with some Celtic folk elements. The gloomy mood is lifted and like the bird the soul can see the labyrinth from above. Priska Eser sings the intro of the following Panzer Hymnus (“Armor hymn”), which is turning into an angry-chromatic incantation by the ensemble along with the beating synthesizer. Though the lyrics are very specific about the parts of the body that should be protected, it seems that this piece is rather about the protection from total despair. At the end, however, the only thing which remains is the nostalgic feeling of Diu welt was gelf (“The world was yellow”), a piece from the maiden songs of Walther von der Vogelweide. Longing for summer, the almost sweet fragility and the painful approach of winter are a strong reminiscence of “Maienzeit” on “Für Euch, die Ihr liebt”. “Wohin?” concludes with Aquil altera, a piece, where three different melodies and lyrics sound together following the medieval “ars subtilior”. Its fragile structure appears like a delicate carving showing various complicated patterns. This is replaced by a repetitive motive that appeared earlier on Qntal I amongst twittering birds and seems to be a look back to the very beginnings. The numerous fast changing samples, which follow, are a kind of an acoustic kaleidoscope forming patterns, which disappear before they can be located. “Wohin?” ends without any direction but a question mark instead quite disturbing somewhere within the labyrinth. Will the next album lead us to the exit?