Saturday 20 September 2014

Hortus Musicus: Estonian Composers volume III

The Estonian ensemble Hortus Musicus was established in 1972 by Andres Mustonen, who studied violin at the Tallinn State Conservatory. They specialise in early music and have access to a range of weird and wonderful instruments such as shawm, shalmey, cromorn, rauschpfeiff and curtal as well as the more obvious violins, harpsichord, recorders and oboe which gives their music a distinctive sound. But they also perform works by 20th and 21st century composers and have had works written for them, for example by fellow Estonian Arvo Pärt (1935-). Mustonen continues as artistic director, conductor, and performer with the ensemble.

Although not new (2003) this CD of music by Galina Grigorjeva (1962-) and Lepo Sumera (1950-2000) caught my eye because of a track by Sumera called 'The child of Dracula and Zombie'. This delightfully sad, shuffling dance makes good its dramatic promise. It is haunting and airy with a limping tune interspersed with air sounds which by half way have dissolved into haunting night-time cries and scary sliding strings. The tune then recurs, tight and controlled, with a straight rhythm and an urgency of going to war, as it builds up tension and dynamic with battle cries from the brass and aggressive percussion. After the climax, just when you think it must be over, the material from the start recurs and limps off into the next track.

The second work by Estonian Sumera 'Pantomime' is equally dramatic and haunting. An eastern-sounding, and very much ornamented, ocarina bends its notes for the first three minutes - to be replaced with a dance rhythm reminiscent of Béla Bartók's Hungarian Dances (if they had been transposed into mediaeval times). Different dances compete for attention in a modern day polyphony, producing interesting cross-rhythms, before clearing, time and again, back to a dance refrain. The last two minutes return to the haunting single line of the ocarina.

Although born in the Ukraine, Grigorjeva was a pupil of Sumera at Tallinn State Conservatory and has been a member of the Estonian Composers' Union since 1994. Her two works 'Con misterio' (written 2001) and 'Lahkumisele (on leaving)' (1999) frame the Sumera on the CD.

'Con misterio' is a setting of four 20th century Russian poets (Velimir Hlebnikov, Fyodor Sologub, Konstantin Balmont, Elizaveta Kuzmina-Karavayeva) and is a view of the crucifixion. 'Con misterio' begins with 'Incantation' for unison male voices and continuo bass, to which is added more instruments in a tight round, with the instruments echoing the singers. Reaching a powerful climax, the round clears into a chorale for the last few bars.

'Lullaby' for soprano is more melodic largely due to the performers clear and expressive voice - the accompaniment is mainly long held lines on the instruments with the addition of vocalised hisses. 'Of soul' is again dark with baritone, brass and buzzing. Tremolo violins add more tension and breaks in the vocal line are filled with fluttertongue flutes and frenzied strings. This is contrasted with a section of airy woodwind and held organ notes to end.

'Aria' is a sadder, lamenting alto song where we can feel the suffering of Christ and his mother Mary – its discordancy resolving into repeated soft chords at the end.

The final work 'On leaving' sets Russian Orthodox texts 'Jesus Christ our Lord and the Virgin Mary on the hour of Leaving Orthodox Souls' and 'On burying lay people'. The prayer 'Lord have mercy' entitled 'Without haste' is a modern interpretation of polyphony that by now is recognisably Estonian. 'With quiet sadness' features a slow sonorous cello melody, decorated by bright percussion and flute which gradually takes over until the cello reasserts itself. Underneath is an accompaniment which moves from continuo to rapidly moving harmony and back.

'Darkly' grates away in the lower registers and contrasts with 'Serenely' in higher voices. Both are more hymn-like in texture than the first two movements. Finally 'Restrainedly' brings together these hymn-like harmonies with the lilting held-over suspensions typical of both Grigorjeva and Sumera.

This CD was an unexpected pleasure. Both the meditative compositional styles and the instrumentation chosen by the composers, along with the performance by this talented and unusual ensemble, made a lasting impression.
Reviewed by Hilary Glover

Hortus Musicus: Estonian Composers, Vol. (November 4, 2002 - May 28, 2003) [01:09:50]
1. - 4. Galina Grigorjeva – Con misterio (21:15)
1. Заклинание / Mana (Velimir Hlebnikov) (6:23)
2. Колыбельная / Hällilaul (Fjodor Sologub) (3:50)
3. О Душе / Hingest (Konstantin Balmont) (4.54)
4. Ария / Aaria (Jelizaveta Kuzmina-Karavajeva) (6:08)

5. Lepo Sumera – Pantomiim (15.59)
6. Lepo Sumera – Dracula ja Zombie laps (14:27)

7. - 11. Galina Grigorjeva – Нa иcхoд / Lahkumisele (17:59)
7. Не спеша / Aeglaselt / Without haste (3:25)
8. С тихой грустью / Vaikses nukruses / With quiet sadness (4:18)
9. Мрачно / Mornilt / Darkly (4:29)
10. Просветлённо / Kirgastunult / Serenely (1:34)
11. Сдержанно /Vaoshoitult / Restrainedly (4:13)

Eesti Raadio / Eesti Radio
ERCD 045

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