Tõnu KÕRVITS (b. 1969)
You Are Light and Morning (2019)
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Tallinn Chamber Orchestra/Risto Joost
rec. House of the Blackheads Hall, Tallinn, June 18-21, 2019
ONDINE ODE 1363-2 [62:05]

Kõrvits’s choral-orchestral cycle Sei la luce e il mattino completed last year is based on poems in Italian and in English by the Italian poet Cesare Pavese. They reflect on nature, on life and death, love and the age-old opposition of light and shadow. “His poems radiate love for land and nature. They are brimming with a sense of yearning, mourning, sorrow, beauty and nostalgia.” The composer’s words are a clear pointer towards what drew him into Pavese’s poetic world. They reflect not only on personal concerns that anyone could experience but also on Kõrvits’s love for nature which he has already expressed in other works. Nature is certainly present throughout his beautiful choral cycle Moorland Elegies of 2015 (on Ondine ODE 1306-2; review), and in orchestral pieces such as the superb Hymns to the Nordic Lights of 2011 (on Ondine ODE 1349-2; review). Another unifying factor running through the entire cycle is – to my mind – the innate fragility and transience of the world as felt through life and death, love and nature itself. As a consequence, each part of the piece ends almost unnoticed, as if dissolving into thin air before any feeling can make its mark durably.

This is already clearly hinted at at the outset of the piece. It opens with a mysterious Fade in which eventually opens up with the choir’s first lines. The music of the initial fade in will reappear later in the course of the work. It is most notable near the end before the final section but in a somewhat more assertive way, in tune with the final words of the cycle, Sei la luce e il mattino, that give the piece its title. It is also worth noting that the music, too, is given some coherence through the often subtle reliance on thematic cells and motives. However, settings of the various texts are hugely varied. Kõrvits’s instrumental and vocal writing quite often subtly respond to Pavese’s vivid poetic imagery. This is to be heard in the third movement Passagio VIII whose main theme is water. Incidentally, water and wind often recur as symbols of transience and find their way into Kõrvits’s music in the form of tremolo or flageolet in the string parts.

The fourth section La casa, sung by female voices, is a wonderful song on memory and the passing of time represented by pizzicati in the strings. The next section Anche tu sei l’amore is yet another beautiful song in which the solo cello (immaculately played here by Leho Karin) adds a somewhat more impassioned tang to the setting. The sixth section Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi is set as a powerfully impressive passacaglia. (Pavese wrote this rather pessimistic poem a few weeks before taking his own life.) A short fade out section leads into the second text in English (Last Blues, to be read some day), set this time as a song for alto solo (Marianne Pärna) and strings. A purely instrumental section eventually leads into the last movement which attempts at some peaceful reconciliation, and ends with the words Sei la luce e il mattino.

That this disc is the third one released by Ondine confirms, if confirmation is needed, Tõnu Kõrvits’s musical status. He has come to be regarded as one of the most significant Estonian composers of his generation, and quite deservedly so, I hasten to say. He has developed a strongly personal music-making and a sound-world that is his own. His music may not be, and is not, too modern. It possibly does not aim at aping any modernist fashion in one way or another, although it clearly belongs to its time and place.

Kõrvits’s music is also superbly served by his interpreters, as the ones here. Both the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra sing and play their hearts out in this wonderful music that definitely repays repeated hearings. In short, this is a highly desirable disc. It will be a must for all admirers of Kõrvits’s superbly crafted and deeply sincere music, but many will find much to enjoy here. This beautifully produced disc is yet another welcome addition to Kõrvits’s growing discography, and is warmly recommended.

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