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ROXANNA PANUFNIK: Dance of Life, Tallinn Mass – Patricia Rozario (Life, Elu)/ Jaak Johanson (Nar.)/ Soloists/ Choir/ Mihhail Gerts, cond. – Warner Classics

ROXANNA PANUFNIK: Dance of Life, Tallinn Mass – Patricia Rozario (Life, Elu)/ Jaak Johanson (Nar.)/ Laura Lindpere, kannel/ Madis Metsamart, percussion/ Estonian TV Girls’ Choir/ Collegium Musicale Chamber Choir/ Choir of Estonian Academy of Music & Theater/ Tallinn Ch. Orch./ Mihhail Gerts – Warner Classics 256464281-9, 56:11 [Distr. by Naxos] ***1/2:

Tallinn became a European Capital of Culture in the year 2011, and in preparation for this celebration the city asked composer Roxanna Panufnik (who is the daughter of the late composer and conductor Sir Andrzej Panufnik) to create something integral to the occasion. The result was the oratorio Dance of Life (in Latin and Estonian), incorporating her fourth mass setting, for multiple Tallinn choirs and the Tallinn Philharmonic Orchestra. But it would be a mistake to consider this work in any way a real “mass”—more likely using the traditional mass as a liturgical backdrop and prop for the other, more secular themes incorporated by noted Estonian poets Doris Kareva and Jurgen Rooste, making the piece a true hybrid of two forms that may or may not work, according to your viewpoint. I say this because the mass setting is available separately as the Tallinn Mass, sans poetry of any kind, which makes one question how sincere the music really is. Adding poetry to the mass neuters the mass portion of its traditional role, making it essentially anti-liturgical, a role it then assumes once again when divorced from the Dance of Life section. The real question then becomes, is the mass intended as a genuine liturgical experience, or as a compliment to another type of poetical, narrated work? To tell you the truth, I am not sure—it’s difficult to hear the mass sections as something religiously oriented in the midst of this other seemingly antithetical thematic concept.

The Dance sections are based on Estonian culture and folklore, and there is some magnificent music here, though my natural aversion to music with narration makes it difficult for me to give a completely honest assessment. To me the whole sounds kind of wordy, but I am sure the overall impression to those Estonians hearing this as a celebration of their county’s achievements were quite pleased, and in the end that is what this commission is all about.

The performance is superb, as is the clear and brilliant sound. Panufnik is always a composer to be reckoned with, and while I doubt I would pose this as something a first-time listener should turn to, fans will want this. Panufnik’s art is something special, putting her among the elite composers in the world today.

—Steven Ritter

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