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With choral music at the heart of the musical life of the Baltics it is not surprising that the medium has been a central preoccupation for many of their composers. A degree of isolation from international trends in new music (frequently turning into outright proscription) meant that the centre of gravity for composers in the west of the Soviet Union was very different from that of their colleagues beyond the Iron Curtain. And while there is certainly no such thing as a pan-Baltic style—this recording offers only a glimpse of the choral riches to be found in these three tiny countries—all the composers on the disc share a number of characteristics: a sure-footed handling of choral orchestration, lucidity of texture, a pragmatic use of ‘avant-garde’ effects (shorn of their ideological baggage), a fondness for cluster-chords and diatonically saturated harmony, and the frequent use of ostinatos.
Stephen Layton has single-handedly brought many of these composers to the attention of audiences and choirs in the West—and through his sensitive and inspirational direction, has won many fans for this repertoire. Together with his brilliant young choir, who sing this repertoire with ‘passion and purity’, he is the ideal guide to this beautiful and enchanting music.