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RECORDING OF THE MONTH
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Pärt UUSBERG (b. 1986) Choral Music - Volume 1 Collegium Musicale / Endrik Üksvärav
rec. 2016-17, St. Jacob’s Church, Viimsi, Estonia TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0331 [66:22]
I must confess to being a bit of a sucker when it comes to Baltic choral music. Over recent years it seems to have captured the listening public’s imagination. Attractive melodic lines, spun out over a sustained bass, with suspensions that spirit you forward, are a hypnotic and irresistible attribute. All of these attractive qualities come together in the choral music of the Estonian composer Pärt Uusberg.
He was born in 1986 in the small town of Rapla, and began studying the trumpet whilst still at school, in addition to singing in his mother’s choir. He had other strings to his bow. He became heavily involved in the school theatre and achieved the level of a more than competent sportsman; he was a national champion in both pole vault and discus. In 2005 he began studying composition and choral conducting in Tallinn, the country’s capital and cultural hub, first at Georg Ots Music School and later at the Estonian Music and Theatre Academy with Tõnu Kõrvits. The main focus of his life now is composition, and conducting, especially of his own music allows him to convey his personal compositional intentions. Aside from his choral works, which form the bulk of his oeuvre, he has made forays into film music, and even works as a film actor.
The music is a mixture of sacred and secular, utilising both Estonian and Latin texts. All are first recordings and a capella. Parts 1 and 2 of Psalm 121 bookend the other works on the disc. Stillness and reflection are at the heart of Part 1, and the mood of contemplation extends to Part 2, where the static, ethereal haze eventually yields to a cadential climax.
The Missa Brevis of 2008 is the most substantial score. The Kyrie makes use of a descending motif, and ebbs and flows with tension and relaxation. The Sanctus is dark, and derives its strength through plumbing the lower recesses. Time stands still in the Agnus Dei, but eventually the lava begins to flow.
Some of the music is particularly ear-catching. I am thinking especially of Farewell, where the repetition of the word ‘Jumalaga’ over a descending ostinato is potently compelling, an affectionate nod to Uusberg’s compatriot Arvo Pärt. Similarly striking is the dissonant harmony which begins and ends the Miserere. The luminous sonorities have an almost otherworldly effect. Uusberg’s melodic gifts manifest themselves to perfection in the Ave Maria, a rare gem of exquisite beauty. Winter’s Night, which follows it, is seductively hypnotic.
It is worthwhile saying a few words about the Collegium Musicale. They were founded in 2010 by the conductor on this recording, Endrik Üksvärav. Despite a wide-ranging repertoire embracing music from the Renaissance to contemporary, they have adopted an ambassadorial role with regard to their native composers, including Arvo Pärt, Helena Tulve and Erkki-Sven Tüür.
These are glowing and radiant accounts of captivating scores. The Collegium Musicale, obviously well-rehearsed, perform with flawless diction and immaculate ensemble. Endrik Üksvärav achieves some superbly controlled soft singing in addition to instinctive phrasing and sensitive control of dynamics. St. Jacob’s acoustic is ideal in every respect. Documentation includes an interesting essay by Ivan Moody, and Latin and Estonian texts with translations. I cannot wait for Volume 2.
Stephen Greenbank Contents
1 Psalm 121: Part I. I will lift up mine eyes (2009) [8:37]
2 Music (2008) [2:57]
3 Miserere (2008) [3:52]
4 It is not Beautiful (2009) [4:32]
5–8 Missa brevis (2008) [17:05]
9 Winter Evening (2013) [6:23]
10 Ave Maria (2013) [2:37]
11 Winter Night (2015) [3:23]
12 The Lord’s Prayer (2015) [2:45]
13 In Paradisum (2016) [4:23]
14 Farewell (2008) [4:45]
15 Psalm 121: Part II. The Lord shall preserve thee (2010) [5:01]