Tuesday 7 November 2023

Cyrillus Kreek: Sacred Folk Tunes - an iconic work by one of the founders of Estonian music recorded by a fine Estonian choir

Cyrillus Kreek: Sacred Folk Tunes; Collegium Musicale, Endrik Üksvärav,  Jaak Sooäär; ERP
Cyrillus Kreek: Sacred Folk Tunes; Collegium Musicale, Endrik Üksvärav,  Jaak Sooäär; ERP
Reviewed 16 October 2023

Cyrillus Kreek's important and iconic collection, Sacred Folk Tunes, getting a rare complete outing on disc in fine performances that add an element of contemporary guitar into the mix

There isn't that much music in the record catalogues by the Estonian composer Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962) but you only have to listen to some of his choral music to understand the essential role he plays in Estonian music and hear the influence on later Estonian composers. Kreek's iconic collections are the Sacred Folk Tunes from 1916-1918, the Psalms of David (1923) and Requiem (1929). Whilst only the Sacred Folk Tunes are explicitly arrangements of existing folk material, all of Kreek's choral music is imbued with Estonian folk song.  [for more on Kreek, see my article]

Previous discs have cherry picked Kreek's music, so Vox Clamantis, conductor Jaan-Eik Tulve, on The suspended harp of Babel on ECM Records [see my review] mixes music from the Sacred Folk Tunes and the Psalms of David along with free improvisations. For their new disc on Estonian Record Productions (ERP), Collegium Musicale, conductor Endrik Üksvärav record both books of Kreek's Sacred Folk Tunes. That is a total of 18 tracks, all in some way linked to the Lutheran chorale, and in order to provide a change in texture and style, on some of the tracks the choir is joined by Jaak Sooäär on electric guitar as he improvises on the material, and sometimes improvises over the choral contributions.

Kreek studied at St Petersburg Conservatoire, but his art was firmly embedded in the music of Estonia. He taught music and conducted, but the bulk of his life was devoted to collecting and studying Estonian folk music. The majority of the folk tunes used in Sacred Folk Tunes come from in and around the county where he was born. 

That Kreek's two collections of Sacred Folk Tunes were created during the years 1916 to 1920 is perhaps not a co-incidence; in 1918 Estonia declared itself independent. And in the Baltic countries, the collecting and recording of folk music played an important role in the creation of a national identity, in parallel to the urge to record folk traditions, and create folk museums (plans for Tallinn's open air museum were first discussed in 1913, in emulation of existing Scandinavian open air museums). The relative neglect of Kreek's music outside Estonia is perhaps partly explained by the fact that being sacred in nature, this music was not performed publicly during the Soviet era.

Conductor Endrik Üksvärav founded the chamber choir Collegium Musicale in 2010, and they seem to number around 28 singers. They make a lovely warm sound, quite strong and robust too, performances here are sophisticated and technically on a very high level, but there is also robustness to them apposite to the folk material. They manage a nice balance between these folk aspects and the more numinous quality to Kreek's writings that helps lift individual pieces off the page. The different movements vary significantly in Kreek's approach, some are relatively discreet chorales whereas in others he gives us rather more varied choral textures, and in length they vary between a minute and a half, and five minutes. This is folk music, so text is important, all the more so as these songs are sacred and the choir admirably brings out the colours and sounds of the Estonian language which means that the recording could not be anything but what it is. The disc comes with complete texts and translations which, given the relative rarity of the repertoire, is valuable to the non-Estonian listener.

Jaak Sooäär is a distinguished Estonian jazz guitarist. His contribution here is relatively discreet, largely adding an extra line to some of numbers and occasionally giving an improvised solo. The effect of Sooäär adding an improvised line of one of Kreek's more regular, four-square chorales is very welcome, though you wonder whether electric guitar is the right instrument. In some ways, Sooäär's contribution is not invasive enough, you rather wish for nothing at all or a lot more. Only in the penultimate track, I alone boast about these bloody wounds, does Sooäär allow himself to get carried away.  But his participation represents an imaginative contribution to the whole, and giving us a sense of difference in texture letting a contemporary artist riff on Kreek's music.

Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1969) - Vaimulikud rahvaviisid, vihik I / Sacred Folk Tunes for Mixed Choir, 1st Book
Cyrillus Kreek - Vaimulikud rahvaviisid, vihik II / Sacred Folk Tunes for Mixed Choir, 2nd Book
Collegium Musicale
Endrik Üksvärav (conductor)
Jaak Sooäär (electric guitar)
Recorded on November 22nd–24th, 2019 in St Jacob’s Church, Viimsi, Estonia
ERP 11623 1CD [48:12]

Never miss out on future posts by following us

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog

  • Escape to the Country: Rachmaninov at Ivanovka at the London Song Festival with soprano Alexandra Dunaeva & countertenor Iestyn Morris - concert review
  • Music knows no borders: countertenor Reginald Mobley on the music of Ignatius Sancho, spirituals as Early Music and the importance of diversity - interview
  • An evening of wit, delight and magic: Silent Slapsticks at The Ritzy with Brixton Chamber Orchestra - film review
  • The level of polish & perfection is remarkable: Apollo5's Haven - record review
  • Engaging & involvingChristophe Rousset & Les Talens Lyriques release Thésée as their 12th Lully opera album -  record review
  • Two Cities: Ned Rorem in Paris & New York - centenary celebrations at London Song Festival - concert review
  • Exploring his musical roots: conductor Duncan Ward chats about his jazz-inspired, Eastern European & French music coming up with the London Symphony Orchestra - interview
  • Piatti Quartet launches its Rush Hour Lates at Kings Place with Dvorak and Schubert - concert review
  • Stories in music in Oxford: visual inspirations from the Mendelssohn siblings, William Blake in song & image, vivid story-telling from Wolf & Mörike - concert review
  • Golden Jubilee: Pianist Piers Lane joins Norwich-based orchestra, the Academy of St Thomas for celebrations  - concert review
  • Home


1 comment:

Popular Posts this month