TONU KORVITS: Kreek’s Notebook; The night is darkening round me; ARTURS MASKATS: Lacrimosa; Prayer to the night; PETERIS PLAKIDIS: In memoriam; Mirage – William Mason, organ/ Choir of Royal Holloway/ Britten Sinfonia/ Rupert Hough – Hyperion CDA67968, 61:18 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***1/2:
I was expecting a little more from this release. Not the performances, which are nothing less than stylish and sophisticated. The fine choir The Royal Holloway is from one of the largest colleges at the University of London, housed at Egham, Surrey, and is currently made up of choral scholars in residence there. I have never heard of them before, but since Britain has almost as many excellent choirs per capita as the American South, that isn’t surprising. All Hallows Church at Gospel Oak in London looks to be a large and almost Romanesque-flavored sanctuary, with its iconoclastic bare walls and large apse. But this sort of setup can be—though is not always—conducive to great acoustics, and this is the case here, with the Hyperion engineers on top of their game all the way.
The music sways between Latvia and Estonia, Korvits claiming the former while Maskats and Plakidis proud members of the latter. But it has to be admitted that a lot of this music sounds alike, or at the very least exists on the same philosophical plane. It is meditative, but not excessively, and in the case of Kreek’s Notebook, a tribute to composer Cyrillus Kreek who died in 1962 and was an avid collector of his country’s folk music and hymns, a reworking of style that still maintains a high degree of folk basis. This is the best piece on the disc.
Plakidis’s music is also highly evocative of the folk element, and I would have to rate his Mirage, a beautiful piece of a fantastical nature that seems to mix texts invoking reality and fantasy, as the next most interesting work here. Maskats, whose musical hero is Peteris Vasks, the best known composer of Latvia, is a little more in the romantic mode, and hence his music leans towards the turbulent as well as the melodic. His Lacrimosa, written as a commemoration of the worst non-wartime disaster in Europe since WWII, the sinking of the Baltic ferry Estonia in 1994, shows the varied and unusual way that the composer can change his course according to the momentary needs of the text.
There is interest here for sure and all of this music poses no challenge to the listener, but the sameness tends to drown out the ability to maintain constant attention the whole way through. But it does demonstrate how fecund and consistent is the music making in these modern day countries.