Galina GRIGORJEVA (b. 1962)
Svjatki for mixed choir (1997/2004) [15:48]
Salve Regina for vocal quartet and string quartet (2013) [8:03]
Diptych for male choir (2011) [12:25]
Lament for recorder (2000) [8:41]
Nature Morte for mixed choir (2008) [17:19]
In paradisum for mixed choir (20120 4:06]
Theatre of Voices, YXUS Quartet (Salve Regina)
Conrad Steinmann, recorder (Lament)
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Paul Hillier
rec. 19-21 January and 10 March 2015, (Lament), Niguliste Church, Tallinn, Estonia.
ONDINE ODE1245-2 [66:21]

Recorded in the vast acoustic of Tallinn’s Niguliste Church, this is a production that oozes atmosphere from the outset, the powerful voices of the Estonian Philharmonic Choir setting the chill January air alight with the lively and expressive sounds ofSvjatki. Galina Grigorjeva was born in Ukraine, but has lived in Estonia since 1992 and considers herself an Estonian composer.

Svjatki is a choral suite that moves between the Russian folk calendar to which the title refers, and Grigorjeva’s personal style, at the time still a student of Lepo Sumera at the Estonian Academy of Music. This is a piece with a powerful sense of ritual, with a surprising strength of rhythm and a mystic feel of devotion that arises as much out of the pagan as it does out of Christian traditions. Particularly striking are the fourth and fifth movements, the violence of Oy Kalyudka! contrasting with the sublime echoes ofChto Nastanet Vesna or ‘Spring is Coming.’ All texts are given in their original languages and English translation.

The beautiful Salve Regina for vocal and string quartets was written for the Theatre of Voices and YXUS ensemble who perform it here. As the composer states, “the string quartet does not have so much an accompanying function, rather it constitutes a complement to the vocal ensemble.” The material is compared to melismatic songs from Byzantine and early Russian music, and eloquent vocal lines soar above relatively slow and sparing harmonic movement, around which secondary lines weave and create a moving sense of shape and texture.

Diptych for male choir brings together texts from the Gospel of St Luke in its first part, Lord, now let your servant depart, answered in its second part by a Russian Orthodox text Do not lament me, O mother. Superbly composed for these voices; deeper, darker colours and surprising harmonic twists and resolutions make this into an immersive and at times forceful experience of dolorous reflection. Lamentfor recorder is intriguing in the way it inhabits the large church acoustic, its notes and calls moving around the space and returning like living things.

Nature Morte is based on poems by Joseph Brodsky, forming a dramatic triptych on the subject of human solitude. This is one of Grigorjeva’s ‘most expansive and momentous works’, and one senses her throwing plenty of extra elements into the pot. Comparisons with techniques used by the likes of Penderecki are hard to avoid, with ‘crowd’ vocalisations, clusters, glissandi and extremes of range forming layers of musical semantic which have their own directness of effect in the first movement. The second movement,The Butterfly is utterly beautiful with its halo of harmonies through which the texts emerge with a now familiar religious character. The last movement returns to the Nature Morte text, now in a slower and more introverted mood but with the most stunning developments of chords and harmonies.

The programme ends with In paradisum, written for the Tallinnn 2013 international choir festival. Saale Kareda’s booklet notes sum this up as a piece in which “a majestic and increasingly solid feeling of eternal peace prevails along with the joy for returning to the spiritual home.”

This is a remarkable release of some of the most strikingly effective choral music I’ve heard for quite some time. The recorded acoustic helps things hang together, but as you would expect the Estonian singers inhabit and deliver this music with tremendous conviction, and with the added contrasts of instrumental contributions this is also a well-considered programme that works superbly as a breathtaking listening experience. I for one am truly grateful to have been introduced to Galina Grigorjeva’s music, and will be sure to look out for her name in future.