Thursday 23 January 2014

Dance of Life CD launch

Soprano Patricia Rozario recording Roxanna Panufnik's Dance of Life Tallinn Mass
Soprano Patricia Rozario recording
Roxanna Panufnik's Dance of Life Tallinn Mass
In what was to be the first event in an Estonian themed day, (see my review of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir's concert), I attended the launch of Roxanna Panufnik's Dance of Life Tallinn Mass on Warner Classics yesterday (22 January 2014). Recorded by Patricia Rozario, Jaak Johanson, Estonian TV Girls Choir, Collegium Musicale Chamber Choir, Choir of Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Mihhail Gerts, the work is an intriguing piece which was commissioned for Tallinn's being European City of Culture in 2011. Designed to reflect Tallinn being both modern and ancient, the work combines contemporary poetry with settings of the Latin mass, all inspired by a 15th century painting of the Dance of Death in Tallinn. The poems by Doris Kareva and Jurgen Rooste take characters from the paintings but they are brought a message of hope by Life, sung by Patricia Rosario, who invites them to join the Dance of Life.

In the presence of the Estonian Ambassador to the UK, the poets Doris Karleva and Jurgen Rooste, as well as representatives of the Estonian commissioners of the work, we heard a presentation from Roxana Panufnik along with a reading from Doris Kareva, and a live performance from soprano Patricia Rozario and Jurgen Rooste, plus video footage from the recording.

Bernt Notke's Dance of Death in St. Nicholas's Church, Tallinn
Bernt Notke's Dance of Death in St. Nicholas's Church, Tallinn
The piece was conceived round the 15th century painting and the texts of Doris Kareva and Jurgen Rooste, with Roxana Panufnik being invited to write the music by Tallinn Philharmonic Society after Heili Vaus-Tamm (of the Tallinn Philharmonic Society)  heard Roxana Panufnik's Westminster Mass. Panufnik set the work in Estonian but it its been recorded in a poetic English version by Jessica Duchen.

The piece uses two choirs, a mixed choir and one of upper voices, accompanied by chamber orchestra. To write it Panufnik immersed herself in Estonian culture; a great lover of wolrd music, she included a number of Estonian folk songs in the piece as well as using an Estonian psaltery in the orchestra (though Panufnik, ever practical, has provided an alternative part for the harp). The character of the unctuous mayor has as his musical backdrop a 1960's dairy workers' song and regional cries find their way into the Gloria. The Hosanna uses a folk song called Wonders about a farmer who has been away form his farm and his joy at being back again. The Agnus Dei uses a 5/8 rhythm grinding song as well as the sound of the bells from St John's Church in Tallinn. The music reflects the astonishing number of churches in Tallinn, with many of the churches bell chimes appearing in the music. The Kyrie uses a three note chime which reminded Panufnik of the sound of the word Tallinn.

Representatives of the City of London Choir were there as the choir hopes to be giving the UK premiere of the work in February 2015. Whilst in New York the choir Choral Chameleon will be giving the American premiere in a staged performance.

The event was a chance to meet many of the people involved in the project, including Aarne Saluveer, Principal of the Tallin Music College and one of the co-conceivers of the project, the work's recording engineer Phil Rowlands and conductor Mihhail Gerts. (Gerts involvement in performances of David Nixon's ballet The Three Musketeers with music by Sir Malcolm Arnold, meant that I also got to meet Malcolm Arnold's son-in-law.)

Further information about Roxanna Panufnik's Dance of Life Tallinn Mass can be found at the work's dedicated website.
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