Tõnu KÕRVITS (b. 1969)
Reflections from a Plain (2013) [5:07]
Labyrinths (2010) [19:30]
Veljo TORMIS (b.1930)/Tõnu KÕRVITS
Plainland Song (2008)** [4:55]
Seven Dreams of Seven Birds (2009 rev. 2012)* [23:41]
The Last Ship (2008) [6:26]
Song (2012 rev. 2013)* [3:27]
Anja Lechner (cello)*; Kadri Voorand (voice)**; Tõnu Kõrvits (kannel);**
Tallin Chamber Orchestra; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Tõnu Kaljuste
Rec. February 2013, Methodist Church, Tallinn
ECM RECORDS 2327 [63:07]

There is a special quality to the Estonian choral sound that is apparent from the outset in this recording, with mellifluous vocal sonorities providing a remarkable texture behind Anja Lechner’s expressive cello in Reflections from a Plain.

Tõnu Kõrvits graduated from the Estonian Academy of Music in 1994 and, in comparison with the influential presence of Pärt is very much a representative of a younger generation whose respect for tradition and National musical character is by no means a hindrance to freshness of approach and a striking individuality. Kõrvits’ language is tonal, his prolific output including film scores, something that can perhaps be gleaned from the contrasts and effects in Labyrinths, a suite for strings with powerful dramatic action and atmospheric tensions.

Fellow Estonian composer Veljo Tormis has played an important role in Kõrvits’s work, and this relationship can be found in a number of the works on this recording. The arrangement of Plainland Songwith its text by Paul-Erik Rummo, sung by jazz singer Kadri Voorand, has exactly that kind of eloquent simplicity which, as is mentioned in Paul Griffiths’s booklet notes, represents a kind of passing on of memory from one generation to the next – passing on a feel for the atmosphere of a bygone era in which Estonian culture was endangered and made fragile by over 40 years of Soviet occupation. The narrow bottleneck of suppression, now released, continues to blossom and flourish while carrying those memories, along with that far northern European luminosity clearly audible in the tender inflections of theSeven Dreams of Seven Birds for cello, choir and strings. There are some intriguing effects in this piece, including a cello cadenza accompanied with whistled ‘birdsong’, and the rich effect of ‘orchestral’ voices together with strings is one you are unlikely to forget in a hurry.

The Last Ship was described by Tormis as a ‘valse triste’, and is one of those tunes that builds on endless tradition, the weight of the male voices emphasised with the languid and at times threatening tread of a bass drum. The final piece, Laul or ‘Song’, is like a brief but intensely poignant farewell, the voice now expressed in the solo cello’s singing over gentle pizzicato strings.

All texts are printed in the booklet, which also has some nice photographs. This whole production benefits from the guiding hands of top conductor Tõnu Kaljuste and the glorious acoustic of the Estonian Methodist Church in Tallinn, a post-independence building completed in 1994 and a perfect space for this kind of sublimely atmospheric music. It’s hard to do justice to this music even with acres of description, but if you like honest and deeply heartfelt expression, fabulous but understated craftsmanship both in composition and performance, and that generous ECM ethos of providing something both brand-new and uniquely valuable for long-term listening then this CD comes with unreserved recommendation.