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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


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Baltic Voices 1
Cyrillus KREEK (1889-1962) Psalms of David (1923) [10.49]
Sven-David SANDSTRØM (b.1942) Hear my prayer, O Lord (1986) after Purcell [6.29]; Es ist Genug (1986) [10.34]
Einojuhani RAUTAVAARA (b.1928) Lorca Suite Op. 72 (1973) [6.33]
Veljo TORMIS (b.1930) Latvian Bourdon Songs (1982) * [17.11]
Arvo PÄRT (b.1935) ... which was the son of ... (2000) * [7.86]
Pēteris VASKS (b.1946) Dona nobis pacem (1996) *† [15.16]
Tallinn Chamber Orchestra †
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Paul Hillier
* world premiere
rec. 18-24 July 2002, Tallinn Methodist Church, Tallinn, Estonia. DDD
HARMONIA MUNDI HMU 907311 [74.26]


Baltic Voices indeed ... and from the last one hundred years. This first disc in the exploratory series led by Paul Hillier turns its gaze on secular and sacred music from Estonia, Latvia, Sweden and Finland.

Hillier was appointed director of this choir in 2001. You can find more about them at but they were founded by Tōnu Kaljuste. They are strong in all departments as is amply demonstrated by the burnished singing in the second movement of the Kreek Psalms.

Kreek's four movement Psalms of David stand between the splendour of Rachmaninov's Vespers and Liturgy and Bax's Mater Ora Filium. They bear strong resemblance to both works though unison rather than multi-part singing is in the ascendant. His choral writing may also remind you of that of Veljo Tormis. Kreek is not, however, one for complexity. This perhaps relates back to his grounding in Estonian folk music. He was the first collector of Estonian folk music to use a phonograph. His Requiem should be well worth seeking out.

The Swedish composer Sandstrøm adopts a much more complex skein of writing with multiform lines interacting with greater lustre than in the Kreek. He transforms the Purcell original of Hear my prayer into a staggering glower of sound. Es ist genug quotes a Swedish song as well as a passage from Buxtehude's cantata Eins bitte ich vom Herrn. This is prayerful as well as something ‘rich and strange’. At times it is as if Sandstrøm holds convention up to a creative prism and re-tunes the light and life in each note. This is especially true of the concentrated slowness of Es ist genug.

Rautavaara has over the years moved with ease from tuneful to the ultima thule boundaries of dodecaphony. His Lorca Suite is harmonically rich and predominantly lyrical not that he shrinks from getting the choir to slide and careen down and up the scales. The work is full of a folk-like vigour drawn from the ‘Kalevala’ and related to Tormis whose use of the ‘Kalevipoeg’ the Estonian counterpart of the Finns' ‘Kalevala’.

Tormis is a familiar presence in the contemporary choral scene. He tends towards the unison simplicity of Kreek but is by no means pedantic. Folk voices are strong in his music. Another of his hallmarks is the terracing of voices with semi-chorus effects, solos and chamber choir gestures - linking to other traditions such as the waulking and other work songs of the Gaelic North-West. Neither is this folk culture preserved in aspic. Try the Midsummer Song where great gales of intense lyrical sound burst the bounds. This is the first recording of the Latvian Bourdon Songs.

The Pärt is the only piece to have words set in English. It was written for Reykjavik's year as European City of Culture (which comes to 'my' nearby Liverpool in 2008). After years of ultra-serial works he emerged in the late 1970s with works of spiritual tonality such as the Britten Cantus. The piece featured here sets the words of the Bible. They recite the lineage of Christ all the way back to Adam, son of God. It of course repeats the words 'which was the son of ...' many times. It is often extremely simple, a rocking and reassuring cradling. Complexity, rather like Tippett's writing in The Windhover, obtrudes from time to time. Forgive the trivial film reference but I could not help thinking of the choral litany in the superb sci-fi film Enemy Mine in which Dennis Quaid learns to recite the lineage of 'Tsamis'.

The Vasks is in one sense the 'odd man out' here in that it is the only work on the disc in which the voices are accompanied by an 18-strong chamber orchestra. This is strings only as is the orchestra in his Violin Concerto (dedicated to Gidon Kremer). What we have is a single quarter hour movement of the choral and orchestral music radiating an undeniable and sustained brightness. It is meditative and that element is accentuated by the Tallis-like string writing. However in its intense climactic moments it will also remind you of the great choral ‘conflagrations’ to be heard in Moussorgsky and Rachmaninov (Sveshnikov's still unequalled 1965 recording of the Vespers, for example). Interestingly Paul Hillier's notes comment on parallels with the Polish school of the 1960s and on Vasks' grieving over the ecological destruction wrought by the Soviets in Baltic waters.

The words are printed in full alongside comprehensive notes in English, French and German. The singing is allowed to ring out without punches being pulled and the church resonance warms the listener's heart.

These lyrical yet always challenging works should be finding their way onto the playlists of the world's radio stations and into the programmes of choirs across the continents. They are not in any sense 'ivory tower' products but welcome the listener with open arms.

Rob Barnett


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