Ülo Krigul (b. 1978)
Vesi ise (2015)
And the Sea Arose (2019)
Aga vaata aina üles (2019)
liquid turns (2020)
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Tallinn Chamber Orchestra/Kaspars Putniņš
rec. 2021, Methodist Church, Tallinn, Estonia
BIS BIS-2590 SACD 
Three of the pieces recorded here were composed in quick succession: And the Sea Arose, Aga vaata aina üles and liquid turns. They may be regarded as a triptych of
a sort, whereas Vesi ise, composed some four years before, may be viewed as a prelude to that triptych. The idea of water is the unifying factor that links these pieces. The first piece recorded here, Vesi ise (“Water Is”), consists of a short text made of repeated fragments rather than of lines from a poem by Ilmar Laaban (1921-2000) set for mixed choir and electronics. The electronic fabric, used not only as a mere background, but first and foremost as the real basis from which the music develops, is derived from improvisations on large gongs. Voices and electronics create an atmospheric and hypnotic tapestry that may sometimes remind one of, say, Ligeti. The piece opens at the verge of inaudibility and, layer upon layer, the music slowly opens up while moving on slowly throughout the entire work.
And the Sea Arose for mixed choir and strings was composed in 2019 and sets words by Hedi Rosma based on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke in an almost operatic manner. Though the work opens again almost unheard, the music soon becomes more dramatic in an almost graphical description of the tempest becalmed by Christ.
Aga vaata aina üles (“But Look Always Up”), also composed in 2019, again sets words compiled by Hedi Rosma from a collection of texts by the Estonian philosopher and writer Uku Masing. The work is set for mixed choir a cappella and is to a certain extent the most traditional piece here, which does not mean that it is either easy to sing or easy to listen to. However, it is certainly the most readily accessible work in the present selection and it is the piece to start with if one is unfamiliar with Krigul's music. The six movements (the first movement is wordless) that make up what may be considered as a choral suite of
a sort reflect both Masing's and Krigul's concerns with man's soul, nature as a whole with words and music that ring true. A nice example is heard in the fourth song: “No cloud/Returns from the edge of the sky/And no sunbeam/shine more than one. But there will always be clouds/And light will never end.” All in all, this marvellous piece is – as far as I am concerned – the gem in this selection and one to which I have already returned.
The final work here is liquid turns. The excellent insert notes by Iris Oja from which I have generously quoted mention that in liquid turns the composer has sampled text and music from the two preceding works (And the Sea Arose and Aga vaata aina üles, I suppose) so that “random phrases interact and emerge as a new whole”. While the electronics in Vesi ise were derived from sampled gongs, that of liquid turns originate from “a field recording of a frozen river and recordings of melting ice and freezing water made with a special microphone”. As in the opening track of this disc, the electronics involved do not obliterate the important human import; rather, they tend to provide some atmospheric soundscape. Again, the end result is utterly gripping.
Ülo Krigul's choral music as heard here displays a remarkable imagination and a highly personal vision which I had not noticed in some of his orchestral music that I know. Here one feels that he has something important to say and obviously has found the way to say it. These strongly expressive pieces receive immaculate readings by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir that definitely go from strength to strength. They deliver assured and committed readings of these undoubtedly exacting and taxing pieces. The Tallinn Chamber Orchestra must also share the plaudits for their wholehearted support in And the Sea Arose. Iris Oja's notes are another asset. In short, this is a splendid survey of Krigul's taxing but often quite beautiful choral music.
Published: October 5, 2022