We learn from the refreshingly candid booklet notes that the chamber choir, Seitakuoro, was founded in the town of Kemi, Finland, in 1961. Fifty years and several conductors later, the choir appears here in a collection of music from Lapland. The Estonian conductor, Kadri Joamets, originally joined the choir as a singer, and her appointment as conductor in 1999 was evidently the beginning of a period of enviable stability for the group. The choir’s repertoire is wide ranging, with more weight given to contemporary music in recent years. The singing on this disc is very fine, but the style is unusual and all those interested in choral singing should hear it. Tuning is excellent and the words are very clear. The singing is full of life, and those more used to warmer climes will take on trust the authenticity of the performances. I had expected a Russian or Slavic sound, with deep powerful basses, but this is not the case. The choral sound is perfectly balanced between men’s and women’s voices, but the sound is clear rather than weighty, and there is no vibrato. The means are perfectly adapted to the repertoire. I have enjoyed this disc enormously, and would very much like to hear this choir now in a more international programme.
“Kulnasadž, My Reindeer” makes for a lovely opener. The opening unison melody establishes immediately the music’s affinity with that of the Baltic nations, of Estonia in particular – which I know a lot rather better than I know the music of Lapland! – in the shape of the phrases as well as in the employment of a short refrain. The first time I heard this melody it stayed obstinately in my mind for the rest of the day. A traveller addresses his innermost thoughts to his reindeer during their arduous journey: does the reindeer yet perceive his beloved’s eyes? The piece is in a lilting triple time, the refrain quite sparsely harmonised. In spite of its obvious links with folk music, it is, like most of the music on this fascinating disc, an original composition. “Lappish Girl’s Song” is an enchanting piece, and the three songs that make up Songs of Lapland
are equally attractive, with much use of drones and held notes, and the third a vivid evocation of the Northern Lights.
It is occasionally difficult to know quite where you are in this collection. Some little research was needed, for example, to understand even the title of “Let Us Sing a Yoik”. This is series of arrangements of folk songs from the Sami, an indigenous people from the far north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the adjoining regions of Russia. I confess ignorance as to how independent these peoples are, or wish to be, of their host nations, and it is only through this disc that I have encountered their very particular style of folk singing, called the yoik. This work is a series of arrangements of three or four such songs. It features a fair amount of onomatopoeia, and words, when there are any, recount simple ideas. It is absolutely delightful to listen to.
, the work that gives the disc its title, was composed in 1971 by the choir’s then conductor. The booklet notes tell us that the advanced musical vocabulary and the “uncouth language” of the text caused some consternation amongst the singers at the time, even leading to resignations. Now, with the choir more adventurous and more proficient technically, the work has been resurrected. There are six “scenes”, all of them short, dealing with different aspects of life within the Arctic Circle, but in particular with the harshness of it. The most immediately striking is “Confession”, a piece that, lasting less than a minute, takes place in a bar and features a number of simultaneous spoken conversations. The flute and cello accompaniment is extremely well written and ably executed by Heli Haapala and Olli-Pekka Kajasviita. This short work is truly original, and I urge all those with an interest in contemporary choral music to hear it.
A single drum beats out the pulse – at about 120 à minute, rather faster than my heart – in “Blood-Stanching Charm”, a grim injunction to the spilling blood to stop its flow. “Inside is better for you” say the words. This short piece, originally written, so the notes tell us, for a festival choir of 5000 singers, makes effective and inventive use of the opening theme. Its message “embraces the closeness to nature and intensity of life in the North.”
The two works by Jan Hellberg are in quite a different style from the rest of the collection. The notes tell us that performing “I promised to sing” was such a pleasure for the choir that they decided to commission a work to commemorate their own fiftieth anniversary year. The result was the charming five-movement cycle Feelings of the Fell Traveller
, whose gentle swing style, sometimes with rhythmic drum accompaniment, makes for delightful listening. The disc then closes with “I promised to sing”. Or does it? Those who are old enough to remember the curiously characteristic cacophony on the run out groove of one of the Beatles singles are in for a similar surprise.