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Veljo Tormis: Vision Of Kalevala

Tormis / Estonian National Male Choir
Release Date: 02/09/2010 
Label:  Alba Records   Catalog #: 35   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Veljo Tormis
Performer:  Andres AlamaaMareks LobePille KarrasMargus Vaht,   ... 
Conductor:  Ants Soots
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 8 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TORMIS 17th Canto of the Kalevala. Kullervo’s Message. Forging the Sampo. Curse Upon Iron. The Singer’s Closing Words Ants Soots, cond; Estonian Nat Male Ch ALBA NCD 35 (68:04 Text and Translation)

The heroic violence, derring-do, and wisdom of the Finnish epic, Kalevala , has been an artistic mine for many Baltic composers since its reconstruction in the mid 19th century. If we think first of Sibelius in that connection, it Read more spins as well a continuing thread in the work of the Estonian composer Veljo Tormis.

Tormis is no stranger any longer in these pages. His work makes an interesting counterweight to that of his compatriot Arvo Pärt. While both have looked closely at the music of their homeland, both have drawn different musical results therefrom. If we can loosely say that Pärt has been most attracted by Orthodox religious music, we can see Tormis as responding deeply to the secular folk tradition. Though one cannot quite say that Estonia sang its way to independence, choral song has long been a staple of its musical and national life and plays a prominent part in the work of both composers. Indeed, Tormis has written almost no instrumental music in the last 30-or-so years. While the music of Tormis and Pärt does not sound alike, broad sonorities, ostinatos, and repetition give them certain points of contact. The five pieces here span 35 years, and all have been reworked at least once. The common theme is Kalevala , either in texts directly taken from the poem or in new ones extending ideas suggested by it.

Hearing these pieces suggests they rely on a couple of recurring musical ideas. First, there is a highly limited melodic register, frequently just a rising minor third followed by a falling fourth. Second, the harmonic structure is spare, often just parallel fifths with the rare use of a defining third (which means that when the third arrives, it is something of a shock). Both of these techniques are used almost exclusively homophonically in dominantly trochaic (long-short) rhythm. The resulting chant-like recitation makes the texts eminently understandable if one knows Finnish or Estonian (the one piece in English is intermittently so). It also means that there is more than a little similarity in the soundscape of each piece.

The longest piece is the first one, written in 1985 for this chorus and revised in 1994, and described as a kind of choral synphony. Written originally for the sesquicentennial of the first version of the epic, it is scored for an assemblage of folk instruments and men’s choir, and is sung in the original Finnish. The 17th canto of Kalevala tells the story of the singer/sage Väinämöinen’s journey to a giant for three spells that will allow him to build the boat he needs. Within the chant-like context, the piece begins to get rhythmically interesting after about 10 minutes, as the story details how the singer oversomes the giant’s unwillingness to utter the chants.

The second piece, written in 1994 for the Hilliard Ensemble, “at present, at least, exists only in English,” but is here sung in a 2006 arrangement for this choir. The text is from W. F. Kirby’s 1907 English translation of Kalevala . Its story is of the capture and enslavement of Kullervo, the romantic hero of the epic, known from Sibelius’s symphony. Though called Kullervo’s Message , it’s hard to know what the “message” actually is, as Kullervo merely bemoans his hard fate.

The sampo is the Kalevala equivalent of a cornucopia, and it is forged by the smith Ilmarinen, who is promised the daughter of the enchantress Louhi as compensation. The text here, translated into Estonian, stops with the completion of the sampo . In the epic, however, the daughter refuses to leave her homeland and Ilmarinen is deprived of his reward, an outcome original audiences of this piece (1997) would have known.

The texts of the much-revised fourth piece (1972/1991/2001), the eldest and probably the most interesting on the disc, refer to Kalevala but do not quote from it. The contemporary poets Paul-Eerik Rummo and Jaan Kaplinski have drawn upon the imagery of the epic to produce a modern curse upon iron and the destruction it has wrought in the world by being transformed into weapons. This is Tormis’s most-performed piece of music, not least outside Estonia. Tormis describes the final piece (2000–02) as his compositional farewell, but he remains musically active; all of these pieces have been revised since 2000.

The choir is simply outstanding; that’s all one can say. The members sing dead in tune, have both power and gentleness, and can make any nuances necessary to articulate their texts. It is a pleasure to listen to them and I would like to hear them in a more varied repertoire.

FANFARE: Alan Swanson
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Works on This Recording

Kalevalan 17. runo (The 17th Rune of the Kalevala) for male choir, soloists & folk instruments by Veljo Tormis
Performer:  Andres Alamaa (), Mareks Lobe (), Pille Karras (Kantele),
Margus Vaht (Shaman Drum), Andrus Kirss (), Hanno Hint (Shaman Drum),
Hideyuki Nishimura (Shaman Drum), Lehari Kaustel (Shaman Drum), Martin Kullerkupp (Rattle),
Indrek Umberg (Shaman Drum), Mati Valdaru (), Per Eeljoe (Shaman Drum),
Tuule Kann (Kantele), Vambola Krigul (Shaman Drum)
Conductor:  Ants Soots
Written: 1985 
Date of Recording: 01/2007/06/2007 
Venue:  Estonia Concert Hall 
Length: 33 Minutes 48 Secs. 
Kullervo's Message by Veljo Tormis
Performer:  Andrus Kirss (), Andres Alamaa ()
Conductor:  Ants Soots
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1994; Estonia 
Date of Recording: 01/2007/06/2007 
Venue:  Estonia Concert Hall 
Length: 10 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Forging the Sampo by Veljo Tormis
Performer:  Vambola Krigul ()
Conductor:  Ants Soots
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Estonia 
Date of Recording: 01/2007/06/2007 
Venue:  Estonia Concert Hall 
Length: 7 Minutes 43 Secs. 
Curse upon Iron by Veljo Tormis
Performer:  Andres Alamaa (), Margus Vaht (Shaman Drum), Urmas Poldma ()
Conductor:  Ants Soots
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Estonia 
Date of Recording: 01/2007/06/2007 
Venue:  Estonia Concert Hall 
Length: 11 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Laullajan loppusanat (The Singer's Closing Words), for chorus by Veljo Tormis
Conductor:  Ants Soots
Period: Contemporary 
Written: 2000 
Date of Recording: 01/2007/06/2007 
Venue:  Estonia Concert Hall 
Length: 5 Minutes 5 Secs. 

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