“Baltic Runes” = VELJO TORMIS: Bridge of Song; The Bishop and the Pagan; St. John’s Day Songs; SIBELIUS: The Lover; CYRILLUS KREEK: 3 Folksongs; ERIK BERGMAN: Lapponia – Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/ Paul Hillier, conductor – Harmonia mundi

by | Jun 8, 2010 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

“Baltic Runes” = VELJO TORMIS: Bridge of Song; The Bishop and the Pagan; St. John’s Day Songs; SIBELIUS: The Lover, Op. 14; CYRILLUS KREEK: 3 Folksongs; ERIK BERGMAN: Lapponia, Op. 76 – Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/ Paul Hillier, conductor – Harmonia mundi Multichannel SACD 807485, 69:12 ****:

Paul Hillier keeps coming up with interesting new programs from the Baltic, using his former choir from Estonia to project immaculate readings of mostly-worthy music that opens the ears and introduces one to a new esthetic not often encountered as easily in the west. Most of the album is dedicated to the music of Veljo Tormis, a composer who hails from Kuusalu, a rural municipality in northern Estonia. His is a voice of great originality, more in conception than in style. Bridge of Song takes passages form the Finnish epic Kalavala and sets them in a bold, tonally deep and sonically splendorous manner. The Bishop and the Pagan juxtaposes the story of St. Henry, a bishop who perished in the year 1158 at the hands of the Finnish peasant farmer Lalli. The story is told from both perspectives, one that might have surprised each of them had they understood each other better. This work is a new arrangement of a King’s Singers commission, and contains some powerful, even jarring moments. St. John’s Day Songs is part of a five-sequence collection called “Estonian Calendar Songs”. Midsummer Eve, or St. John’s Day is celebrated across Scandinavia by the lighting of bonfires everywhere. These varied songs are about aspects of the celebration, from the fires to the praying for cures from St. John, each quite different and infused with a folk-like element while in no way derivative.

The Sibelius offering is quite echt-Sibelian, created in 1894 for male voices only, set for mixed chorus in 1899, and even rewritten for string orchestra in 1911! It is taken from Book 1 of the Kanteletar, a companion to the Kalevala, and is as lyrical and romantic as one might imagine Sibelius to be. Fin Erik Bergman has written Lapponia, referring to Lapland, the northernmost part of Scandinavia, and home of the famous Northern Lights. This is the most difficult work on the program, quite modern (1975) and difficult in places, using four words as titles, “Midwinter” referring to the above-mentioned lights, “Yoik” a primordial song of the Lapps, “Midsummer Night” and “Storm on the Fells”, all sung to invented syllables designed to conjure meaning from textual sounds and not from texts. The piece can grate a bit, and at 24 minutes is the longest on the disc.

Estonian composer Cyrillus Creek gives us three songs, “Sing, sing, sickles”, “Sleep, sleep, little Matsik”, and “Why are you chirping little bird?”, simple folkloric texts that provide the composer with ample opportunity to display his considerable melodic gifts.

I do have the caveat with the Bergman work, but some will undoubtedly disagree with me. Choral sound is stunning both from a performance aspect and recorded surround quality. There is not a loser in this series, and this one is no exception.

— Steven Ritter

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