Thursday 2 February 2023

Galina Grigorjeva: Music for Male-Voice Choir

Galina Grigorjeva: Music for Male-Voice Choir; Estonian National Male Choir, Mikk Üleoja, Theodor Sink; Toccata Classics
Galina Grigorjeva: Music for Male-Voice Choir; Estonian National Male Choir, Mikk Üleoja, Theodor Sink; Toccata Classics
Reviewed 27 January 2023 (★★★★★)

A simply stunning disc that brings together the rich and complex sound world of the Russian-trained Estonian composer Galina Grigorjeva with the terrific musicality of the Estonian National Male Choir

In 2017, I was in Tallinn at the Estonian Music Days when I heard Vox Clamantis, conductor Jaan-Eik Tulve in a performance of Galina Grigorjeva's Vespers [see my review] and I was very taken with her work. Since then, I have not had the opportunity to hear more. Now Toccata Classics has issued a disc of Galina Grigorjeva's music for male-voice choir, performed by the Estonian National Male Choir, conductor Mikk Üleoja, with Theodor Sink (cello).

The disc includes Nox vitae (2006-2008), Diptych (2011), God is the Lord (2014), Prayer (2005/2022), Agnus Dei (2022) and In Paradisum (2012). Nox Vitae sets poems by the Russian symbolist poet Innokenty Annensky (1856–1909), whilst all the other works take texts from Russian Orthodox and Roman liturgies.

Born in Simferopol in Ukraine, Grigorjeva studied in Simferopol and at Odessa Conservatoire, before graduating from St Petersburg Conservatoire, she then took postgraduate studies at the Estonian Academy of Music with Lepo Sumera in Estonia, where she is now based.

Nox Vitae sets a group of five poems by Annensky and the complete work was premiered in 2008 by the Estonian National Male Voice Choir, conductor Kaspars Putniņš. In 'Nocturno' a man stands alone in the middle of the darkness of night, and the music is strong and rich with a fabulous depth to the sound. At times the slowness is almost ceremonial and the sound world here, and elsewhere on the disc, reminded my of Schnittke's Choir Concerto. The words of 'Romance without Music' hint at wistful longing, the music here is more vital with fragments of melody over constant drones, as the music builds the sense of movement continues but the drones are ever present, giving a very particular sound to the music. 'October Myth' is an intense solo meditation, here a striking bass solo, Aleksandr Mihhailov, over drone clusters, the angular solo line bringing out a feeling of darkness and melancholy, the whole evoking Shostakovich. 'Cake-Walk on the Dulcimer' is intriguing, the words a mix of light-hearted and melancholy, the music with an intriguing rhythm dancing over a regular progression underneath. 'The Snow is Falling' is quiet and intense, drifts of melody over not clusters, haunting but a rich yet intimate sound, as the words intrigue with their images of death and love.

Diptych is a pair of movements reflecting on death. The first sets the Song of Simeon from St Luke's Gospel, thoughtful and intense with the sound Schnittke to the fore again, and a wonderful depth to the sound of the chorus. The second 'Do not lament me, O Mother' has a haunting tenor solo Aleksander Arder creating a remarkably Rachmaninov-like effect, but no matter how rich the textures the mood is always melancholy.

God is the Lord for choir and cello sets texts from Psalm 117, creating a joyful proclamation in the style of a Slavic hymn. The fast yet vivid folk-inspired choral interjections alternate with a strenuous cello solo to create a sort of dialogue and no matter how the music develops, that lively folk-sense is a constant. A terrific piece. Prayer for choir and cello is more reflective and we more more into John Tavener territory here (I'm thinking of his Svyati for choir and cello), a lamenting cello over choir drones, creating a sense of a long, intense cello rhapsody with powerful choral support.

Agnus Dei lasts around 12 minutes yet utilises only a fragment of text from the Latin liturgy. Yet Grigorjeva creates music of great strength and richness, this is a vibrant and up-front sound world. Finally, another fragment of Latin liturgical text, In Paradisum, a lovely intimate movement with flowing tenors over note clusters.

This is a terrific disc, partly from the richness and seductive intensity of Grigorjeva's music, referring to earlier composers and styles yet always creating her own. But also, partly because of the simply stunning performances from the Estonian National Male Voice Choir. Their photo shows around 50 men, and the depth of sound that they are thus able to create is simply phenomenal, and their grasp of the complexities of Grigorjeva's style is masterly. A slightly surprising yet very definite hit.

Galina Grigorjeva (born 1962) - Nox vitae (2006-2008)
Galina Grigorjeva - Diptych (2011)
Galina Grigorjeva  - God is the Lord (2014)
Galina Grigorjeva - Prayer (2005/2022)
Galina Grigorjeva  - Agnus Dei (2022)
Galina Grigorjeva  - In Paradisum (2012)
Estonian National Male Voice Choir
Mikk Üleoja (conductor)
Theodor Sink (cello)
Recorded 14 & 16 February 2012, 27 January 2013, 24 & 25 2022, Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn

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