Veljo TORMIS (b. 1930)
Curse upon Iron - Works for male choir
1. Incantatio maris aestuosi (Incantation for a stormy sea) (1996) [5:48]
2. Kord me tulemi tagasi {Meie varjud}(Once we will reappear {Our shadows}) (1969/1991) [3:17]
3. Kolm mul oli kaunist sõna (I had three beautiful words) (1962) [5:58]
Vastlalaulud (Shrovetide songs) (1967) [5:18]
4. I. Vistel-vastel [1:21]
5. II. Lina loitsimine (Spell upon flax) [2:05]
6. III. Liulaskmise-laul (Sledding song) [1:45]
7. Pikse litaania (Litany to thunder for male chorus, soloists and bass drum) (1974) [5:15]
8. Viru vanne (The viru oath) (1980) [4:10]
9. Helletused (Childhood memory – Herding calls) (1982) [8:10]
10. Raua needmine (Curse upon iron) (1972/1991) [10:34]
11. Muistse mere laulud (Songs of the ancient sea) (1979) [9:35]
Hamleti laulud (Hamlet’s songs) (1964) [8:22]
12. I. Meri tõmbus endasse ... (The sea has retreated ...) [5:33]
13. II. Jah, olla, olla, tingimata olla ... (Yea, to be, to be, unconditionally ...) [2:43]
Kaksipühendus {Diptühhon} (Double dedication (Diptych) (1983) [3:55]
14. I. Ühte laulu tahaks laulda (I’d like to sing a song) [1:35]
15. Tähed (Stars) [2:18]
Orphei Drängar/Cecilia Rydinger Alin; Andreas Alin (flute) (tr. 3); Gunnar Sundberg (tenor), Henrik Stolare (baritone), Magnus Einarsson (bass drum) (tr. 7); Elin Rombo (soprano) (tr. 9); Gunnar Sundberg (tenor), Henrik Stolare (baritone), Folke Alin (shaman drum) (tr. 10); Magnus Sjögren (tenor) (tr. 11)
rec. February 2012, Uppsala University Hall, Sweden
Sung texts with English translations enclosed.
BIS-SACD-1993 [72:48]
Estonian composer Veljo Tormis has written more than 500 choral songs and besides that a chamber opera, a ballet-cantata, 35 film scores, a few orchestral works and music for vocal and instrumental soloists and chamber groups. More than half of his choral compositions are based on ancient traditional Estonian songs. Many of the texts are also traditional, but he has also set poetry by latter-day authors. On this disc there are examples of both. Musically he has created his own very distinct tonal language, harmonically often daring and dissonant, clusters, glissandi and other ‘modern’ means of expression are often encountered, as well as unorthodox effects like whistling, spoken sections and hissing sounds. Rhythms are often irregular, there are sudden pauses. Giving a general description of Tormis’s music is difficult, since it is almost always unpredictable. If all this sounds forbidding, let me at once add that large portions of the songs on this disc are immensely beautiful in the traditional sense of the word. The more ‘difficult’ parts of his works have their own brand of beauty, thrill, tension and magic. This music is never dull. Let me give a few examples.
The opening number, Incantation for a stormy sea, with texts from the Finnish Kalevala, but in Latin translation, begins almost inaudibly – the sea is calm. The storm is on its way, the music grows, not in a steady crescendo but in waves. Then there are energetic staccato sounds and in the background we hear whistling noises. Birds? They disappear and then eventually the storm dies away.
Kolm mul oli kaunist sõna (I had three beautiful words), which is the earliest composition here, is beautiful and dominated by a jolly flute that sprinkles cascades of melodious phrases around and above the choir. The poem is by a young Paul-Eerik Rummo, responsible for several texts on this disc and a central cultural personality in Estonia. He was Minister of Culture and Education 1992-1994 and Minister of Population and Ethnic Affairs 2003-2007.
In Pikse litaania (Litany to thunder) Tormis excels in unorthodox effects. There are two intensely thrilling solo voices and the chaotic middle section is enhanced with a bass drum. Thunder indeed! The text is based on a magic spell in southern Estonian dialect. Helletused is a fascinating arrangement or rather ‘orchestration’ of herding calls, used in times gone by when children herded cattle. The source here is the first professional concert singer in Estonia, Aino Tamm, who sang them in her youth in the 19th century. A high virtuoso soprano solo, excellently sung by Elin Rombo, is a thrilling contrast to the dark male voices. Beautiful and fascinating.
Raija needmine (Curse upon iron) was composed in 1972 for mixed chorus and shaman drum and revised in 1991 for men’s or women’s voices. This is again a text from the Kalevala, adapted and augmented by among others Paul-Eerik Rummo. It has become a classic and with the partly rather raw singing and magic sounds of the shaman drum one feels transported back in time.
Ohoi cursed, evil iron!
Ohoi cursed, evil iron!
Flesh consuming, bone devouring,
Spilling blood, devouring virtue!
Whither comes your cruel cunning,
Haughtiness so overbearing? Fie upon you, evil iron!
Your beginnings reek of malice.
You have risen from villainy.
This is only the first stanza of this very long text but it is enough to give a hint of the power of the words. The music is just as potent.
The whole programme, which is a cross-section of Tormis’s rich and varied output, is deeply fascinating and the singing of OD is superb, which was only to be expected. Founded in 1853 the choir has developed into one of the most prominent interpreters of the male voice repertoire worldwide. BIS’s recording allows us to hear every tiny nuance. This is a disc not to be missed by choral music lovers.
Göran Forsling
Footnote: There are several other collections of Tormis’s choral music available. A personal favourite is the 2-CD-set Forgotten Peoples (ECM 1459/60) with the superb Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under Tönu Kaljuste.
This is a disc not to be missed by choral music lovers.

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