Music Web International: Recording of the Month, January 2013.
A modern shaman is how Veljo Tormis (b.1930) has been described. In his large production, chiefly composed for a cappella choir, he utilizes ancient chants and magic charms, as well as the typically Estonian runic songs, regilaulud. Indeed Curse upon Iron, his best-known score, even includes a shaman drum. Much of the music of Tormis, who began composing during the 1950s, mirrors his steadfast devotion to an Estonian identity in the face of Soviet occupation, with traditional ways of life, such as farming and fishing, resonating in pieces such as Helletused – based on ancient herding calls – Spell upon Flax (from the three Shrovetide songs) and Songs of the Ancient Sea. But there are also works, such as the two Hamlet’s Songs, that seem to echo the bleak mood of Soviet Estonia, while The Viru Oath is one of Tormis’s most overtly political compositions, written in 1980 during the so-called ‘stagnation period’ in which the thaw following Stalin’s death was halted. With Stars, from Kaksikpühendus (Double Dedication), the disc closes on a more lyrical and personal note – another strand in the composer’s rich repertoire. The informative liner notes to this selection of works for male-voice choir composed between 1962 and 1996 are by Mimi S. Daitz, author of a biography of Veljo Tormis. As she explains, even when Tormis does not use traditional tunes, he incorporates their scales and intervals into his melodies and harmonies, thus creating a unique sound. Divisions of voices into separate lines play an important part in Tormis’s orchestration of voices, and another characteristic is his rhythmic ingenuity. The various demands this places on the performers are amply fulfilled by Cecilia Rydinger Alin and Orphei Drängar, described in Choir and Organ as ‘a tremendous choir, with superb technique and an immense, expressive range’. Further variety is added by a number of guest soloists, including the internationally acclaimed soprano Elin Rombo.
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