Because Americans are so bad at geography, one welcomes this album´s big, clear map of the Baltic states – those countries that ring the Baltic Sea – Russia, Finland, Norway and Sweden to the north, Denmark, Germany and Poland to the south and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to the east.
From these areas, each with a rich ethnic musical tradition, Paul Hillier has chosen some remarkable works for chorus, some rare, but also three world premieres on disc by superstars such as Finland´s Kaija Saariaho (“Nuits, adieux”). Estonia´s Erkki-Sven Tüür (“Meditatio”) and Poland´s Henryk Górecki (“Five Kurpian Songs”).
In “Meditatio”, accompanied by the Raschèr Saxophone Quartet, which makes “the sound of cracked bells”, the choir sings of the Lord Jesus and why he is both beloved and cursed for letting the singers see both the good and bad sides of blind faith (though I suspect this interpretation might not sit well with “the faithful”).
Saariaho´s “Nuits, adieux” was originally composed for chorus and electronics. A revised score, in which the electronic effects (echoes, delays, etc.) are performed live by the singers, is recorded here for the first time. Like all Saariaho´s vocal music, beauty of sound is as important as avant garde technique.
Don´t expect the hypnotic Gorecki of the now infamous Third Symphony in these songs and dances from the forested Kurpie region of northeastern Poland. Composed in 1999, they employ some of that earlier work´s repetitions but the initial impulse is folk derived. Beautiful, sophisticated performances.