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Veljo TORMIS (b. 1930)
An aboriginal song (1981) [2:31]
Double Dedication (1983) [4:25]
Crosswind (1993) [4:13]
Our Shadows (1969) [4:39]
Forging the Sampo (1997) [7:52]
The Bishop and the Pagan (1992) [10:05]
Incantation for a Stormy Sea (1996) [7:52]
songs 1-3, 5, 7-8 from Men's Songs (1964-65) [16:32]
Curse Upon Iron (1972) [10:17]
Svanholm Singers/Sofia Soderberg Eberhard
Veljo Tormis (shaman drum); Stefan Engstrom (log drums, counter-tenor); Emil Johansen (tenor); Staffan Lindberg (tenor); Johannes Midgren (tenor); Johan Sternby (bass); Martin Sterbvander (whistling); Erik Emilsson (bass).
rec. Lomma kyrka, Lomme, Skåne, 9-11 October, 6, 8 November 2006.
Texts and translations into English are provided; notes in English, German, French, Estonian

Sound Sample
Opening of Song of the Turkish War
Sound samples are removed after two months


Tormis is fascinating and that fascination is in no way diluted by this collection of his music for male voice choir.

For all the precision of ensemble and the uniform garb of the choir this music seems to speak of ancient times. There is little in the way of dissonance. Effects, texture, dynamic range and rhythmic topography are constantly varied but all within a distinctive tonal universe. Superficially he may occasionally remind you of Orff. Listen however to the explosive shamanic drumming – courtesy of the composer as player - that assertively opens An aboriginal song. Often the singing conveys a sense of awe in the face of nature or primeval forces. The tolling and crooning murmur of Crosswinds and Our Shadows contrasts with the initial plainsong curve of The Bishop and the Pagan. The latter recounts the story of the death of Bishop Henry near the town of Turku in 1158 and the plainsong element contrasts with the sharply rhythmic and growling pagan voices. More upfront and relishably masculine is Forging the Sampo, complete with its clanging hammer and anvil. There is more of the devotional strain in Incantation for a Stormy Sea. Then comes a selection from the earliest sequence here: The Men’s Songs which date from the 1960s. These are typically Scandinavian, mixing testosterone-charged working songs with more gentle and lighter-hearted inspirations (Betrothal Visit Song). Song of the Turkish War is cheery and is freshened and lofted by eruptive whistling – nothing like ‘Colonel Bogey’. More whistling and clapping enlivens Dancing Song. The blanched devotional strain returns for Serf’s Song. After six selections from the 1960s sequence comes the 1972 Curse Upon Iron which takes as its material the spells and incantations in ‘The Kalevala’. Whispers, whoops and chittering are resourcefully used amid the usual rousingly inventive writing. There is perhaps a touch of Penderecki in those Hiroshima sliding wails towards the end of Curse Upon Iron; must have been in the air at the time. For all the choir’s well drilled technical accomplishments they retain an indispensable grainy roughness that is essential to convey the nature, wildness and gothic terror that sustains Tormis’s inspiration.

There is no shortage of Tormis’s choral music on disc. I hope that there will also be a chance to hear a selection from the composer’s film music as well as the big works with orchestra such as Kalevipoeg for tenor, baritone, SSAATTBB and orchestra (1954–9), Vanemuine for SSAATTBB and orchestra, 1967 and Sünnisõnad for choirs and orchestra (1999).

This is a superbly recorded and performed selection which is well worth tracking down. Tormis is receiving some attention but is desperately neglected on the world stage in relation to his worth as a composer. Merits the effort of discovery especially if you favour choral work or are a choral conductor and are looking to clamber out of the rut.

Rob Barnett




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Editorial Board
Classical Editor
Rob Barnett
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
   Stan Metzger
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

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