Albums

Choral Music (Choirs) - Released January 5, 2018 | BIS

Booklet Distinctions Diapason d'or - Gramophone Award - Exceptional sound
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Alfred Schnittke and Arvo Pärt have both lived through the intense decades of upheavals that preceded the fall of the Soviet Union. From the 1970s, religion returned to public life as restrictions around it were relaxed. Schnittke turned towards Christianity, while remaining open towards Eastern religions. Arvo Pärt, from a family of Lutheran Estonians, embraced the Orthodox faith in the 1970s. The two composers both began to incorporate religious themes into their work, moving decisively away from the modernist abstraction of their early work. Schnittke wrote three religious works of great power: a Requiem in 1975 which could only be played in secret, disguised (what ignominy...) as stage music in a Muscovite production of Schiller's Don Carlos. His Choir Concerto, also with a religious theme, was performed in Moscow in 1986 after overcoming a daunting series of bureaucratic obstacles. On the other hand, the Penitential Psalms were performed out in the open in 1988 in as part of celebrations to mark a thousand years of Christianity in Russia. The style of this immense masterpiece is in line with Orthodox liturgical tradition, but Schnittke extends traditional principles to create modern sounds - in particular, rhythmical and harmonic modifications, which lend the work an intense richness.   Like Schnittke's Penitential Psalms, the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis by Pärt are composed in a semi-liturgical style. The Magnificat dates back to one year after Schnittke's score was composed, in 1989. Pärt had been living in Berlin since 1981, where he refined his "tintinnabuli" technique. The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir which plays here is one of Estonia's foremost chamber music ensembles. Founded in 1981, it has been directed by Kaspars Putniņš since 2014. Its choral repertoire stretches from Gregorian chant and baroque to more contemporary music, with a particular focus on the work of Estonian composers, which the Choir works hard to spread beyond the country's borders. © SM/Qobuz
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Vocal Music (Secular and Sacred) - Released March 18, 2016 | harmonia mundi

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - 4 étoiles de Classica - Exceptional sound - 5 Sterne Fono Forum Klassik
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Vocal Music (Secular and Sacred) - Released November 16, 2012 | Sony Classical

Booklet Distinctions Diapason d'or - 4 étoiles de Classica - Exceptional sound
German baritone Christian Gerhaher has recorded lieder, and his fundamentally gentle, intimate, moderate-sized voice is suited to that genre. Here, however, he steps it up successfully to early Romantic opera, from Schubert up to Wagner's Tannhäuser and Otto Nicolai. If you're wondering about the two separate Schubert operas, that gives you an idea of the value of this vocal-orchestral recital: it touches on some very unfamiliar music and generally does a good job bringing it to life. Schubert's 1823 opera Alfonso und Estrella, not performed until it was revived by Liszt in 1854, has been recorded, but the excerpt from Der Graf von Gleichen, sketched out at the end of Schubert's life and left unfinished (the realization here is by Richard Dünser, made in the 1990s) is a much rarer animal. This is the highlight of the album; in Gerhaher's hands, the aria "O Himmel ... Mein Weib, O Gott, mein süßer Knabe" emerges as a real piece of Schubert's broad and harmonically pathbreaking late style. Another comparative rarity is the excerpt from Schumann's opera Genoveva, usually accounted the great failure of Schumann's later years; Gerhaher gives the excerpt "Ja wart' du bis zum jüngsten Tag" a spiky quality that is quite Wagnerian in its free speech cadences. The more melodic music from Otto Nicolai's Die Heimkehr des Verbannten, also not common on recordings, provides an effective foil. Gerhaher's voice has many surface pleasures, but his accomplishment here is to make the listener want to undertake a fresh hearing of the operas involved. A fine outing from the on-a-roll Sony Classical label, nicely recorded.

Vocal Music (Secular and Sacred) - Released April 1, 2008 | BIS

Booklet Distinctions Exceptional sound
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Though most of its members are wearing sunglasses on the cover, the YL Male Voice Choir isn't kidding when it comes to this disc's title: YL The Voice of Sibelius. Since its founding in 1893 at Helsinki University, YL has participated in the premieres of nearly all Sibelius' works for male chorus, most famously his Kullervo Symphony. Indeed, many of the works on this disc were written for and dedicated to YL, and it is not too much to say that these performances are, for all intents and purposes, definitive. Led by Matti Hyökki, the YL has a strong but nuanced tone and a tight but supple ensemble combined with a burnished blend, a robust balance, and a vigorous sense of rhythm that suits Sibelius' music perfectly. The majority of the pieces on the program here come from the composer's first period when ardent patriotism and passionate expressivity were his music's foremost characteristics. Of the 21 works included, 14 are for male choir a cappella, while the other seven are scored for male choir plus orchestra and occasional male vocal soloists. The best-known work, of course, is Finlandia, and YL gives it a suitably full-throated performance. Perhaps the best works here are the two longest: The Origin of Fire and The Captive Queen for male choir and orchestra. Both works sound like prime Sibelius: restrained almost to the point of austerity, but intense and extremely effective. Accompanied by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä, the YL's performances will be mandatory listening for dedicated fans of the Finnish composer. BIS' digital sound is warm, round, and deep.