Tõnu KÕRVITS (b. 1969)
Moorland Elegies (2015) [54:02]
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir,
Tallin Chamber Orchestra /Risto Joost
rec. 9-12 November 2015, United Methodist Church, Tallinn
ONDINE ODE1306-2 [54:02]
Performed by the same musical forces, this release converses across record labels with the ECM release Mirror (review), so if that recording appealed this new title from Ondine must be high on your list.
Using poems by Emily Brontë, Moorland Elegies is “a nine-part cycle for mixed choir and string orchestra, [and the] crowning achievement of its composer Tõnu Kõrvits’s magical impressionism.” Kõrvits himself describes the work as “a journey into the darkest, most mysterious corners of loneliness: to where one doesn’t dare to peek twice.” Peek we must however and, compelled to peek more than once and rediscover Brontë’s poetry – all printed in the booklet – and be reminded of the ways in which she combines the power of seasons, the flow of time in the phases of day and night, the acute physicality of weather and human emotions. Kõrvits often returns to her evocations of night, and again we are reminded of how much more of an impact the darkness and “the solemn hour of midnight” would have had in Brontë’s candle-powered day, and of course in her exposed rural environment.
Kõrvits’s settings are expressive and eloquent without overt playing on the dramatic in a theatrical sense. There is plenty of contrast, and though the general feel is one of expansiveness and wide horizons, there is no lack of event or intensity. Movements such as Fall, Leaves, Fall reflect the “Fluttering from the autumn tree,” before the same material, slower and in a lower register, “Ushers in a drearier day.” Luminous effects such as the strings sustaining each note of the chorus at the opening of She Dried Her Tears are stylistic fingerprints Kõrvits connoisseurs will have come to expect, this particular setting building into something with understated but quite monumental weight. There is a striking passage at the end of this piece, reflecting on the final line “…she would weep the time away”: a sound-field of descending vocal motiefs that conjure mournful sorrow like a chilling curtain that closes in a diminuendo al niente.
While darkness and melancholy emotions are a strong thread throughout Moorland Elegies, the startlingly fine final movement Month after Month ends on an apotheosis of quiet and beautifully expressed optimism: “What thought the stars and fair moonlight/Are quenched in morning dull and grey/They were but tokens of the night/And this my soul is day.” Filled with transcendent music in performances of sublime subtlety, this is the kind of bittersweet dose of beauty we all need to dive into from time to time.
This is both a deep pleasure and a call for all of us to reflect on our own lives and how they do or do not move to the rhythms of nature, and to what extent we are sensitive to our own emotions and impressions of where and what we are. Moorland Elegies has by no means an existential, “overly psychologised” message, but if it leaves you cold then you have to ask yourself what demands you are making from your experience of music. Tõnu Kõrvits’s response to Emily Brontë is an artistic bridge that brings her words into our own time with a moving grace and ease that should spark the poet in all of us.