Tõnu Kõrvits

Tõnu Kõrvits – Hymns to the Northern Lights

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases | Leave a comment

For those of you who prefer a little less avant in your garde, consider the latest portrait disc of music by Tõnu Kõrvits. Kõrvits occupies an interesting position within the Estonian contemporary scene. His music embodies a great deal of the conservatism that tends to typify new music from that country – a situation that is gradually changing – yet it’s also mischievous, quixotic and capricious, often turning out to be something more or other than first appearances might suggest. Additionally, he’s by far the most lyrical Estonian composer i’ve encountered (and that’s saying something), unafraid to allow his music to expand seemingly unchecked into vast, passionately romantic (with both a small and large ‘R’) reveries – though often these are coloured in such a way that they simultaneously convey an air or at least a trace of unease. The new disc of his work, Hymns to the Northern Lights, performed by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Risto Joost, is an excellent demonstration of all these traits.

While it’s hard not to get caught up in the intensity of Kõrvits’ music, there are times when its more traditional creative outlook is frustrating. Elegies of Thule, composed in 2007 and by far the oldest work on this disc (everything else dates from the last decade) is an exercise in incidental music-like middle-of-the-road meandering. A work for strings, it has some typically effective orchestrational touches – particularly the smeary texture that occupies the first half of final movement ‘I Look Up to the Hill’ – but engaging moments like this only make the rest of the piece feel all the more light and cloyingly filmic. Leaving Capri, another string piece, seems at first to be similarly safe but the security of its harmonic language – conveying the kind of repressed billowing passions that would suit an Austen period drama – has enough flecks of melancholia to render it mildly askew. It brings to mind his 2015 work Moorland Elegies (reviewed here) which used a similar approach to explore the poetry of Emily Brontë. More melancholic, and more engrossing, is the 7-minute Tears Fantasy, an exquisite piece that throughout manages to sound soft yet weighty. Drawing on renaissance musical models (primarily Dowland) it has the tone and focus of a passacaglia, often sounding so heavy-laden that the clarity of its construction (both horizontally and vertically) is obfuscated; we only get a clearer sense of what’s happening when Kõrvits pulls things back and reduces the forces. It’s highly effective, all the more so as it never sounds anything other than emotionally direct – to the point that when the lyricism is allowed some space it’s among the most beautiful of Kõrvits’ music that i’ve ever heard. The more vague final third appears to loses focus, though if anything it clarifies the disquiet at the heart of this powerful piece, making for a fittingly uncomfortable emotive experience. Read more

Tags: , ,

Mixtape #41 : Best Albums of 2017

Posted on by 5:4 in Best of the Year, Mixtapes | Leave a comment

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

As of today, 5:4 is ten years old, so first of all i want to say an enormous thank you to all of you who have read, commented, enjoyed, shared and supported this blog over the last decade, especially to my merry band of patrons. As this is a special year for 5:4, i’ve planned some exciting things for the next twelve months, all of which will be revealed in due course.

Meanwhile, i’m starting the year in traditional fashion, with a new mixtape featuring something from each and every album in my Best of 2017 list. It’s typically eclectic and non-partisan, and while in many respects last year may have left a lot to be desired, musically speaking this mix does at least prove that there was a great deal to consider and celebrate. Links to buy each of the albums can be found in the previous two days’ articles.

The mixtape can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud as usual. Here’s the tracklisting in full: Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Best Albums of 2017 (Part 2)

Posted on by 5:4 in Best of the Year | 4 Comments
* Please note this list has how been superseded by the one on the Best Albums of the Years page *

So here they are, the best of the best of 2017. Your CD racks and audio libraries would be so much better off with these incredible gems nestling among them. Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mixtape #40 : Miniatures

Posted on by 5:4 in Mixtapes | 1 Comment

Even more than is usually the case, the new 5:4 Mixtape is a pure stream of consciousness. i’ve returned to a theme i explored in one of the earliest mixtapes, miniatures, once again setting myself a limit of music lasting under two minutes. With a shortlist of 100+ tracks (each one a personal favourite), i then simply followed my nose, treating them as puzzle pieces for a newly-created jigsaw, or perhaps more accurately as tessera for an eccentric aural mosaic. As usual, they embrace a mixture of new and old, and stylistically it’s all over the place, though its narrative was entirely suggested by the material, sometimes dovetailing or morphing, elsewhere successive tracks acting as rude non sequiturs. Along the way you’ll encounter abrasion (Alejandro Jodorowsky, Naked CityBenjamin Wallfisch (whose IT soundtrack is gleefully insane), aTelecine), playfulness (Syd Dale, Andrew Liles, Camille), moody atmospheres (Laura Sheeran, SupersilentVangelisOlga Neuwirth, Beacon, Gareth Davis & Machinefabriek, Alva Noto, Ben Lukas Boysen), edgy lyricism (Zola Jesus, Elsiane, Gazelle Twin, Clark, Jenny Hval), convoluted beats (Don DavisZavoloka & AGFThe Flashbulb, Derek K Jeppsen, Shad[]wb[]x, Ryoji Ikeda), drama of various hues (James Newton HowardPeter AblingerVeli-Matti PuumalaClaude Vivier), dreamy ambient (Bad Loop, The Real Tuesday WeldCliff MartinezGet Well SoonMonty AdkinsAphex Twin), rich tonal yum (Marcel Dupré, Carpenters, Cyrillus KreekTõnu Kõrvits) and various other electronic, experimental or otherwise unconventional amuse-bouches (Francis DhomontFrank ZappaNicolas ObouhowAndrew Lloyd Webber (yes, really), Sophie, Steve LevineJohn ZornKenneth Kirschner). And all of this in just one hour.

48 tiny tracks ranging in duration from 1’59” to a mere 26 seconds. Here’s the tracklisting in full, together with links to obtain the music. As ever, the mix can be downloaded or streamed via MixCloud. Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cheltenham Music Festival 2017: E STuudio Youth Choir

Posted on by 5:4 in Concerts, Festivals | Leave a comment

In the wake of my experiences at this year’s Estonian Music Days, extended in my recent weekend of articles focusing on the country’s choral music, yesterday’s late evening concert at St Matthew’s Church in Cheltenham was a real treat. It featured a choir new to me, the E STuudio Youth Choir, formed in 2012 and based in Estonia’s second largest city, Tartu. The concert was something of an ambassadorial occasion, marking the country’s presidency of the European Council and exploring a mixture of home-grown and international contemporary repertoire. Three conductors – Eliisa Sakarias, Jaanus Karlson and Külli Lokko, who was originally responsible for founding the choir – took turns in a programme that’s best described as a mixed bag of confections.

Put another way, if one thing characterised the thirteen pieces performed in the concert, it was a quality of sweetness, music that sought expression in varying degrees and interpretations of consonance. (While Estonia does, as i’ve written about previously, have a decidedly experimental side, it tends to rear its head less in choral music.) Arvo Pärt was of course well represented – one wonders if an Estonian choir will ever be so courageously far-sighted as to exclude Pärt from a concert programme – opening the evening with his short but well-known setting of the Marian hymn Bogoroditse Dyevo, followed by his much longer take on the Triodion. It was useful to have the pieces in this order, as Bogoroditse Dyevo makes the point well that there’s more to Pärt than just luxuriating in solemnity (if that’s not an oxymoron), the choir positively dancing through the hymn’s rushing material, playful and full of happiness, and treated here to the most transparently clear articulations. The Triodion, more trademark Pärt, posed the question of whether the similarity of utterance exhibited in the three odes worked to reduce or even nullify its intended effect. Yet if one regards it in the same way as separate portions of a common liturgy – surely the only way to regard them – the question more-or-less evaporates. Describing it like that may sound off-putting, but neither the music in this piece nor the choir’s rendition of it at any point suggested the kind of piousness that can render concert performances of sacred music so distasteful. Everything was measured, enabling Pärt’s subtle word-painting – particularly the second ode’s large-scale climax – to speak with real immediacy. Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Estonia in Focus weekend: New Estonian Choral Music, Tõnu Kõrvits – Moorland Elegies, Galina Grigorjeva – Nature Morte

Posted on by 5:4 in CD/Digital releases, Thematic series | 3 Comments

To bring this first Estonia in Focus weekend to a close, some excellent CDs of Estonian contemporary choral music have been released in the last few months. Together they admirably demonstrate the considerable range and richness of compositional thought typical of the country’s new music scene. For a broad but in-depth overview of this scene, there’s a superb new anthology released by the Estonian Music Information Centre, the primary and superbly supportive outlet for the country’s musical output (at present, the disc only appears to be available directly from there). It contains music by no fewer than ten composers, works all written within the last 15 years.

Folksong, whether clearly invoked or implied, is an influence in several of the pieces. Most obviously in Kristo Matson‘s Three Estonian Folk Songs, a strangely-structured work – the middle ‘song’ is so blink-and-you’ll-miss-it that it hardly counts – and perhaps a little too simplistic for its own good, but with some pretty moments, particularly in the opening song. Piret Rips-Laul‘s Paradisi Gloria is similarly simple, and regarding the album as a whole feels like the odd one out, more redolent of the sugary choral styles so prevalent in the US, tapping into a harmonic world not unlike Morten Lauridsen’s but without the scrunchy diatonics. Also with a folk sensibility, but greater invention and beauty, is Maria Kõrvits‘ work for female choir Haned-luiged (Geese-Swans), essentially homophonic but here and there enriched with sustained chords behind, while Mariliis Valkonen‘s Usalduse jõgi (River of Trust) widens the scope of such simplicity, combining relatively rigid underpinning (via drones) with a mixture of unified declamation and bursts of more textural music. Many of the works on this disc have love as a central theme. In Near by Evelin Seppar, setting texts by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, it’s implicit rather than stated (Seppar’s partner conducts the choir for whom it was written), though the work’s strong upward movements that coalesce around the phrase “mystic shape”, and the overwhelmingly passionate outpouring heard later, answered by a soft, heartfelt conclusion, make the subtext abundantly clear. Born in 1958, Toivo Tulev is the elder statesman here, and not simply in terms of age: Tulev has acted in the role of composition teacher for four of the other featured composers. Though the two movements from his 2007 vocal cycle Sonnets are unfortunately marred by an imperfect recording (afflicted with a low hum), the stirring melancholy that Tulev wrings from Dante’s La vita nuova is crystal clear. First the choir laments and consoles itself as a kind of close-knit support group, before turning outwards in a more emotionally raw episode that benefits from sounding intuitive, the contrast between loud, high outbursts and sustained softer passages making this arguably the most direct music on the disc. Read more

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,