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Hyperion Records

Click cover art to view larger version
Front illustration based on a photograph by Dr Tracy Langkilde, Pennsylvania State University Biology Department.
Track(s) taken from CDA67968
Recording details: June 2012
All Hallows, Gospel Oak, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by David Hinitt
Release date: July 2013
Total duration: 31 minutes 3 seconds

'The Choir of Royal Holloway's championship of the music of the Baltic countries is a true feather in their cap, as this recording proves once again … these simple, memorable melodies are couched in Kõrvits's lush (but never too lush) arrangements … performances and recording are outstanding' (Gramophone)

'Kõrvits is euphoniously fanciful, threading together elements of Lutheran hymnody with runic song, and vocal ornamentation with chamber-musical textures … this Baltic compilation is given gently sympathetic performances by the student singers of Royal Holloway College and the Britten Sinfonia under Rupert Gough' (BBC Music Magazine)

'This album proclaims the excellence of British choral singing and the remarkable quality of contemporary choral music from the Baltic countries. If you think that only indigenous choirs can bring out the best in music from this part of the world, then these magnificent performances, the latest in a Hyperion series, will make you think again … melodies to die for … this is a lovely work that casts its spell immediately. Gough and his forces deliver a spellbinding performance' (International Record Review)

Kreegi vihik 'Kreek's Notebook'
2007; first performed on 1 June 2007 at the final concert of the Cyrillus Kreek First Music Days
author of text
Estonian folk hymns from, No 1: Kihnu Island; No 2: Rapla; No 3: Pärnu-Jaagupi; No 4: Kolga-Jaani; No 5: Mustjala; No 6: Otepää; No 7: Lääne-Nigula; No 8: Saaremaa Island

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The most important collector of folk melodies in Estonia was Cyrillus Kreek (born as Karl Ustav Kreek in 1889). He was the first to research and collect folk hymns, an unusual variant of folk melodies, and many of his arrangements have since become part of the repertory of Estonian choirs. Most of these religious folk songs were originally eighteenth-century Lutheran hymns which have been passed across generations and embellished with elements of secular folk-singing within that region. Older Estonian folk melodies, known as runic songs, were also sometimes allied to Psalm texts. During the Soviet regime, the singing of these religious songs was forbidden and this cultural genre was all but forgotten. By the end of the twentieth century fresh light could be shone on these folk collections, and Tõnu Kõrvits (born 1969) was particularly struck by the fresh possibilities and newly discovered meanings of folk hymns: ‘The music in Kreek’s collection is highly captivating … It reflects so perfectly the nature of our Nordic country and the soul of the Estonians.’

In writing Kreek’s Notebook Kõrvits pays homage to Cyrillus Kreek while presenting a contemporary view of folk hymns. These melodies are already highly ornamented and yet Kõrvits goes beyond these melodies in an improvisatory manner, moving through different modes, rhythms and colours. Although there is a dramatic unity to this eight-movement work, there is much diversity in timbre and scoring. The opening movement is for female voices with the flowing melodic lines of the hymn set against pizzicato strings. This buoyant undercurrent sets the tone for this joyous hymn (from the small island of Kihnu) with its refrain of ‘Küri eleis’ (‘Kyrie eleison’) lilting almost like a lullaby. The metred structure of a hymn is much more apparent in this movement than in later ones. However the real interest lies in the musical ideas emerging from the accompaniment, alongside the organic development of the sung verses in a rather timeless discantus style.

The second movement sets a darker tone, with male voices singing an evening hymn from Rapla. The chromatic ornamentation of this melody provides the stimulus for the string writing which becomes ever more dramatic. In the fourth verse we hear the melody treated in canon over a pedal drone, techniques that Kreek himself would employ in his own arrangements. The last three chords settle us into the darkness of the night with the drone of the lower strings continuing to sound until pizzicato violins lead into the third movement—a rustic instrumental waltz based on a melody from the Pärnu-Jaagupi region. It is hard not to draw comparisons here with the 'Playful pizzicato' from Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony. In fact Kõrvits is happy to acknowledge that, like Arvo Pärt, he is a great admirer of Britten’s music.

The fourth movement is stripped bare, beginning only with a repeated chant of ‘Oh võta, armas Jeesus, vastu mult’ from the basses. These first two verses of the hymn (from the small borough of Kolga-Jaani) speak of despair but are then transformed into an eruption of joy leading to the climactic line: ‘You, word of God! Recreate all now and from the heart, remove all that is old.’ There is great energy in the string writing here, especially the driving bass line which Kõrvits admits might owe a little to Jimi Hendrix. The final resonant ninth chord carries over into the next movement to provide a background to the ornamented hymn melody ‘Su hooleks ennast annan ma’ (‘I shall give myself up to your care’), sung by a solo soprano. Three instrumental variations of this tune (from Mustjala, on the island of Saaremaa) follow, with the cellos and double basses having the last weary word laden with melancholy.

The sixth movement comes as a breath of fresh air with its light string textures and open harmonics. The hymn ‘Fly up from your sorrows’ (from Otepää) actually centres mostly around G minor yet Kõrvits sets this against an accompaniment of C major, allowing the B flats to feel more like ‘blue’ notes. An instrumental link between the third and fourth verses allows the cellos to transform this melody into a folk dance. With the rhythmic addition of the double basses on the repeat there is an element of ‘rock and roll’ to the string writing. The seventh movement is for choir alone, and there is little related to the hymn melody from Lääne-Nigula beyond the opening solo. The writing is tonally much more ambiguous, from the opening descending figure repeated by the tenors and basses to the cadences which flirt with both major and minor resolutions. There is great pathos and a sense of struggle accompanying the words ‘My grief, sorrow and troubles’ with the release of ‘will finally come to an end’ only really emerging in the final bar.

Kreek’s Notebook culminates in the solemnity of the grand hymn ‘I gaze up at the hill’. A long introduction weaves an ever-more complex contrapuntal texture based around the hymn melody (again from the island of Saaremaa). Above these uplifting melodic lines the violins shimmer with overlapping open fifths. After the rousing sung rendition of this hymn, it is this same effect of overlaying bare fifths across all the upper strings which brings the work to an acquiescent conclusion. Kreek’s Notebook received its first performance on 1 June 2007 at the final concert of the Cyrillus Kreek First Music Days.

from notes by Rupert Gough © 2013

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