Tõnu Kõrvits: You Are Light and Morning

The tragic fate of Italian poet Cesare Pavese has found rich expression in Sei la Luce e il Mattino, (You are Light and Morning) a cycle for choir and orchestra by Estonian composer, Tõnu Kõrvits. While Kõrvits generally claims some stylistic affinity with his compatriots, Pärt, Tüür and Tormis, in this particular instance Mahler casts rather a long shadow over this romantic exploration of love and longing, life and death. In matters of texture and harmony, and the blending of choir and orchestra, there are certain resonances with Kõrvits’ near contemporary, Roxanna Panufnik.

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Cast in 11 sections, Sei la Luce sets eight of Pavese’s poems; six in Italian, two in English. Pavese, who sadly took his own life when just 41, writes of desire and unrequited love using metaphors of seasons, landscapes and natural elements. Kõrvits’ lush and predominantly tonal score tenderly echoes these similes, for example bookending the work with evocations of the wind, recalling the transient nature of relationships.

The restrained choral and instrumental treatment of the texts echoes their tone of regret. This is an effective ploy, resulting in much that is moving, like the setting of the fifth poem with its plangent cello solo, tellingly played by Leho Karin. Confronting and painful, the poem “Death will come and have your eyes” is set as a listless passacaglia.

Kõrvits’ work is made all the more poignant by this excellent and empathetic performance under Risto Joost. The renowned Estonian Chamber Choir sing with admirable clarity and expression, while the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra accompany superbly.

This haunting and heartfelt homage to Pavese deserves a wide audience.

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