The series of recordings Baltic Voices (Vols. 1-3) was released by Harmonia mundi in 2003-2005 on the initiative of Paul Hillier, a long-standing music director of the Hilliard Ensemble, the founder of the “Theatre of Voices” and, since 2001, artistic director of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. It was with this choir that a cycle of recordings exploring the choral tradition of the Baltic Sea countries has been launched.
“When one lives far away, one hears only of the major artists in the galaxy and is often satisfied with merely knowing their names; but when one draws closer, the twinkle of stars of the second and third magnitude becomes visible until, finally, one sees the whole constellation – the world is wider and art richer than one had hitherto supposed.” According to Hillier, these lines from Goethe’s Italian Journey perfectly sum up his feelings at the conclusion of the series of three CDs devoted to Baltic composers as well as some of the best Baltic voices – Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Hillier has pointed out that these three releases were not intended to become a comprehensive anthology of the choral music of the Baltic countries, rather, they resemble “letters posted to friends at home” that reflect different experiences and impressions, people and musical works.
“By sustaining a strong choral tradition, the Baltic area has fostered a continuing respect for tonal music, and when the pendulum of music fashion started to move away from the avant-gardism of the 1960s and 1970s, many Baltic composers found themselves on the crest of a wave […] if I have favoured [in this CD series] the more tonal styles, this is because there are many more composers who have produced fresh and exciting choral music in that language, than those using a more experimental vocal style or a more instrumental idiom,” Hillier says.
Subjective collections by Hillier abound in experimental spirit as well as in courage to introduce works by lesser known composers alongside with such widely established names as Swedish Sven David Sandström, Finnish Einojuhani Rautavaara and Kaija Saariaho, and Estonians Arvo Pärt, Veljo Tormis and Erkki-Sven Tüür. Baltic Voices Vol. 3 features three pieces by Lithuanian composers: The Stomping Bride, a stylised sutartine by Vaclovas Augustinas (this version charmingly accompanied by period instruments – recorders, viola da gamba, harpsichord and percussion), the endless spiral canon The Dazzled Eye Lost Its Speech by Rytis Mazulis, and hymn Alleluia by Algirdas Martinantis. All three works support the image of the Baltic countries as the dominion of tonality and minimalism.
The entire series of the Baltic choral music has received a wide and positive response from professionals. Baltic voices Vol.1 and Vol.2 were nominated for Grammy awards. Baltic Voices Vol 3. won Diapason d’or of 2005. In the beginning of 2006 it was awarded Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik, and in February included on the Gramophone’s Editor’s Choice list.