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Choral Music (Choirs) - Released April 3, 2012 | Ondine

Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - 4 étoiles Classica
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Classical - Released December 9, 2006 | harmonia mundi

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This collection of short works by Arvo Pärt features a cappella music and some lightly accompanied by an organ. Conducting the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir is Paul Hillier, one of Pärt's most celebrated interpreters and the author of a book-length study of his music. Hillier came to Pärt from the field of early music, and in his notes he stresses affinities between Pärt and the composers of medieval and Renaissance eras. Pärt rarely uses music to directly illustrate the text, for example. Instead, just as a composer of five centuries ago might do, he selects a pitch environment and elaborates it through the placement and manipulation of sonorities. Hillier points out Pärt's liking for chains of first-inversion chords and for the so-called Landini cadence, linking those to music of the fourteenth century, especially in England. The comparison to pre-Renaissance English music is a good one more generally as well: Pärt can be very quiet, and his music does bring to mind, as Hillier says of the opening Da pacem Domine, stones placed with exquisite care in a Zen garden. But he also has a grand manner that can't be described as minimal; even in small-scale pieces like these there are moments where he brings forces together to heighten the music's intensity. The effect is like that of music by Leonel Power and the other composers of the Old Hall manuscript: stark, but also big at times. All this goes to show that Hillier, always a strong interpreter of Pärt's music, is superb here. The sound he obtains from the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir is both beautiful and impersonal; he focuses not on the tonal conservatism of Pärt's music but on its structures and details. There is little sweetness, but there is an uncanny feel for the way the music slowly unfolds. Hear the composer's setting of Psalm 131 (track 4), the second of the Two Slavic Psalms, as it begins with subtle establishment of relationships among tones of a simple pentachord and builds a long ascent in intensity out of them. Other conductors may get a slightly more virtuosic interpretation of Pärt's tintinnabulation (bell-effect) technique out of their choirs, but none will have a better feel for where it fits in to the overall structure of a work. This is an excellent choice for anyone contemplating a first Pärt purchase as well as for those who have been following his career and its highly successful promotion on Hillier's part. © TiVo
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Classical - Released November 14, 2006 | harmonia mundi

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Classical - Released December 4, 2005 | harmonia mundi

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Classical - Released November 5, 2010 | harmonia mundi

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Classical - Released November 1, 2011 | Ondine

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For a country of its modest size, Estonia seems disproportionately packed with top-notch composers, Arvo Pärt being the most recognized internationally, but he is only one among many who are loaded with talent and have plenty so say. Erkki-Sven Tüür, born in 1959, started his career as a rock musician, but by his early thirties he had established himself as one of the country's brightest voices in composition. Like many of the Scandinavian and Baltic composers of the late 20th and 21st century, Tüür's music is characterized by a generous expansiveness, an eclectic harmonic language that draws willing listeners in, and an organic structure that's suggestive and evocative of natural processes. Like the work of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, which it resembles in some ways, it is smart, appealing music that should engage listeners open to new sounds. Ärkamine (Awakening), written in 2011, is the most substantial work on the album, a 36-minute piece for mixed choir and chamber orchestra. Using Latin texts related to Easter interspersed with Estonian poetry that deals with the human yearning for higher spiritual awareness experienced through immersion in the natural world, it weaves together idiomatic choral writing with radiant contemporary orchestral colors. The Wanderer's Evening Song, an unaccompanied choral work, takes its texts from an assortment of poems by Estonian writer Ernst Enno that also address the interconnectedness of nature and spirituality. Its beginning reflects the meditative atmosphere of twilight using imagery of a northern forest, but it progresses toward a surging ecstasy of a soul's awakening, expressed in music of tremendous excitement, that recalls the powerful choral pulsing in Reich's The Desert Music. Daniel Reuss draws gorgeous performances from the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Sinfonietta Riga, who sing and play with sumptuous tone and spacious expressiveness. Ondine's sound is full, warmly detailed, and realistically present. Highly recommended for fans of new orchestral and choral music. © TiVo
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Classical - Released September 13, 2019 | Ondine

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With their album dedicated to Psalms of Repentance by Alfred Schnittke, and two works by Arvo Pärt (BIS), this same line-up won some fine prizes (Diapason d'Or, Gramophone). Kaspars Putniņš leads the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir as they continue on their way through the works of Arvo Pärt with four very seductive scores (including the choral version of Summa): they are starting here, and this forms an ideal introduction to the programme's most major work, which is surely Via Crucis, S. 53 by Franz Liszt, an ample score for piano and choir finished in 1879 in Budapest, recordings of which are all too rare. The voices of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir are sublime here, possessed of an enrapturing depth and purity. This Via Crucis is a perfect summary of the later, most modern Liszt: the writing for piano "comes" directly from the final part of the Years of Pilgrimage. There are such striking similarities with pieces like Angelus! Prière aux anges gardiens or the Sursum corda that one might well wonder whether certain pages from Via Crucis (number 12, Jesus stirbt am Kreuze, for example) aren't in fact elaborations from these. In this work, Franz Liszt is developing astoundingly modern harmonies, which draw out a naked form of Wagner's chromatisms, rarefying them: all the more so given that pianist Kalle Randalu tends to put the accent on their dryness. This is the essence of the end of Romanticism, in an absolutely hypnotic record. © Pierre-Yves Lascar/Qobuz
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Classical - Released February 20, 2009 | ECM New Series

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Classical - Released March 27, 1998 | ECM New Series

Arvo Part's Kanon Pokajanen is a work of starkly radiant beauty, a deeply felt plea for forgiveness so resonant it seems to bear its own expiatory power. The piece is a choral setting of the Russian Orthodox Church's canon of repentance, believed to have been composed by St. Andrew of Crete sometime in the late seventh century. Part had experimented with the canon in earlier works, but when the Cologne Cathedral commissioned him to compose a choral piece for its 750th anniversary, he took the opportunity to immerse himself in it completely. Over two years of intense quality time with the work, Part produced an 80-minute choral setting of the entire canon that mines each word of the original Church Slavonic (a language used exclusively in ecclesiastical texts) for its maximum musicality and meaning. Part believes language to be more important to a choral work than the music. In the liner notes, he explains that he wants each word "to find its own sound, to draw its own melodic line." The result is a piece that moves slowly and deliberately through the canon, making ample use of the silences between the words. The juxtaposition of the deep bass men's voices with the high soprano women's voices, sung in the dissonant harmonic style of medieval chant, parallels the canon's night and day symbolism. Part's version, performed in an immaculate recording by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, captures the sunrise feeling of a song that is still sung at the break of day in European monasteries. Marina Bobrik-Fromke's liner notes describe it beautifully: "The canon is heard in the nave, barely illuminated by the flickering candles, while the door to the sanctuary still remains closed. As soon as the canon has come to an end, this entrance...opens. The church is filled with light, signifying the presence of Christ." Asked by an interviewer how best to listen to the piece, Part laughed. "First of all," he said, "Turn off the television." If you're looking for background music, Kanon Pokajanen is not your best choice. This is music to soak in, music to meditate to. Music of searing intensity that finds that part of the soul, so often neglected in today's fast-paced lifestyle, that is starved for reverence, fear, and awe, longing to say "Come out to seek me; lead me up to Thy pasturage and number me among the sheep of Thy chosen flock. Nourish me with them on the grass of Thy Holy Mysteries." © Evan Cater /TiVo
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Classical - Released June 14, 2005 | harmonia mundi

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Classical - Released April 30, 2013 | Ondine

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Classical - Released December 21, 2012 | harmonia mundi

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Classical - Released May 12, 2009 | harmonia mundi

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Classical - Released November 1, 2018 | Cypres

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Classical - Released August 18, 2005 | harmonia mundi

The Powers of Heaven is the second recording Paul Hillier has made with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, and it covers a sampling of Eastern Orthodox sacred literature dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These were the first centuries in which coherent literature was produced for Russian Orthodox choirs singing in Old Church Slavonic, and the arrival of Italian composers in the middle of the eighteenth century had a strong impact on this uniformly unaccompanied music; they too are represented in selections from Baldassare Galuppi and Giuseppe Sarti. From the very first second of this disc it is apparent what a consistently beautiful tone Hillier is able to draw from this Estonian choir; moreover, he is extremely patient with the pacing of this music -- a critical element -- and sweats such details as the proper intonation of very low bass notes often heard in such music. Hillier has the taste and good sense not to juice up this material in any way; the delivery of everything on the disc is meticulously prepared, straightforward, and appropriately devotional in tone. The booklet contains brief, but excellent notes by Marika C. Kuzma that provide rare historical context for this generally mysterious music, and the program itself is concentrated in a specific period. Collections of Eastern Orthodox sacred music usually draw upon Bortnyansky only from this specific era and combine his work with much later compositions. This isn't so much a reflection of historical ignorance about the music as it is merely the usual working mix of what Eastern Orthodox choirs sing; developments in this music haven't evolved very radically from the model Bortnyansky provided around 1800. By isolating key literature from these remote centuries, Hillier has done well to provide listeners with a baseline for understanding the context of Old Church Slavonic music, demystifying but not removing the essential emotional mystery or impact of Orthodox polyphony. In sum, Orthodox chant is moving, eloquent, otherworldly, and very excellent. © TiVo
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Classical - Released March 23, 1996 | ECM New Series

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Classical - Released December 21, 2012 | harmonia mundi

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Choral Music (Choirs) - Released February 12, 2016 | Ondine

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Though born in Ukraine, composer Galina Grigorjeva has lived in Estonia since 1992 and has worked within that country's deep tradition of sacred choral music. She studied music in Tallinn in the mid-'90s, and her music is thus interesting in terms of representing the thoughts of a younger generation that has absorbed the holy minimalism of Arvo Pärt as well as a variety of other styles from the Slavic world and beyond. Indeed, the unifying stylistic thread of the six works on the album can be hard to find, and indeed the booklet notes by Saale Karede point to "the living light that glows through the music," most of it religious. But Karede also refers to "exceptionally suggestive original material and its concentrated and inventive elaboration," qualities that must have led conductor Paul Hillier and his Theatre of Voices to champion the composer. You can see where he's coming from; these are concise works with a dramatic flair, whether they draw on minimalism, the traditions of Slavic church music, or Western motet forms (the tonalities vary, but tonal organization is never abandoned). The title work, to English-language poems by Joseph Brodsky, may be the most powerful; sample its titular first movement (track 11) with its soaring soprano lines for a taste of Grigorjeva's personal adaptation of a Pärt influence. The Lament for recorder, originally recorded for flute, but extremely nifty in this version that makes use of the recorder's distinctive attack, is also unusual. The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Hillier's Theatre of Voices are in fine precise form, and they are ably backed by Ondine's engineering team, working in Tallinn's sonically impressive Niguliste Church. A fine excursion through new choral trends in Eastern Europe. © TiVo