REPERTOIRE. Baltic Voices: Unique Baltic Choral Music Cycle Completed

The series of recordings Baltic Voices (Vols. 1-3) was released by Harmonia Mundi in 2003-2005 on the initiative of Paul Hillier, a long-standing music director of the Hilliard Ensemble, the founder of the "Theatre of Voices" and, since 2001, artistic director of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. It was with this choir that a cycle of recordings exploring the choral tradition of the Baltic Sea countries has been launched.

"When one lives far away, one hears only of the major artists in the galaxy and is often satisfied with merely knowing their names; but when one draws closer, the twinkle of stars of the second and third magnitude becomes visible until, finally, one sees the whole constellation - the world is wider and art richer than one had hitherto supposed." According to Hillier, these lines from Goethe's Italian Journey perfectly sum up his feelings at the conclusion of the series of three CDs devoted to Baltic composers as well as some of the best Baltic voices - Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Hillier has pointed out that these three releases were not intended to become a comprehensive anthology of the choral music of the Baltic countries, rather, they resemble "letters posted to friends at home" that reflect different experiences and impressions, people and musical works.

photo: Benjamin Ealovega

"By sustaining a strong choral tradition, the Baltic area has fostered a continuing respect for tonal music, and when the pendulum of music fashion started to move away from the avant-gardism of the 1960s and 1970s, many Baltic composers found themselves on the crest of a wave [...] if I have favoured [in this CD series] the more tonal styles, this is because there are many more composers who have produced fresh and exciting choral music in that language, than those using a more experimental vocal style or a more instrumental idiom," Hillier says.

Subjective collections by Hillier abound in experimental spirit as well as in courage to introduce works by lesser known composers alongside with such widely established names as Swedish Sven David Sandström, Finnish Einojuhani Rautavaara and Kaija Saariaho, and Estonians Arvo Pärt, Veljo Tormis and Erkki-Sven Tüür. Baltic Voices Vol. 3 features three pieces by Lithuanian composers: The Stomping Bride, a stylised sutartine by Vaclovas Augustinas (this version charmingly accompanied by period instruments - recorders, viola da gamba, harpsichord and percussion), the endless spiral canon The Dazzled Eye Lost Its Speech by Rytis Mažulis, and hymn Alleluia by Algirdas Martinaitis. All three works support the image of the Baltic countries as the dominion of tonality and minimalism.

The entire series of the Baltic choral music has received a wide and positive response from professionals. Baltic Voices Vol.1 and Vol.2 were nominated for Grammy awards. Baltic Voices Vol 3. won Diapason d'or of 2005. In the beginning of 2006 it was awarded Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik, and in February included on the Gramophone's Editor's Choice list.

© Daiva Parulskienė

Lithuanian Music Link No. 12

From the opening pounding rhythms of Vaclovas Augustinas's The Stomping Bride, it's clear that this tour of the Baltic will be bracingly different. ... I found the touched-in words, whispers and even the growling tolled Rs unforgettably haunting.

The opening Treputė Martela (The Stomping Bride) by Vaclovas Augustinas is a wild, dancing celebration driven by relentless percussion and other instruments, including viola da gamba and recorders. Similar in their lively rhythmic character are pieces by Rytis Mažulis and - especially exciting - the Alleluia by Algirdas Martinaitis. [...] Paul Hillier has again chosen repertoire that is not just a series of highlights but that also makes sense as a program. Yes, it is a difficult one on many levels, but listeners interested in exploring beyond the choral music world in which most of us mortals reside and perform will be at least enlightened if not compelled to hear more.

The third and final installment in this series, Baltic Voices 3, was released a week ago. In the liner notes, the choir's markedly un-Estonian director, Paul Hillier, claims that this disc is the 'most varied in content' of the three. He could have added that it is also the most ass-kickingly fantastic.

I found something to like about each of the composers heard here - even those who are new to me, like Vaclovas Augustinas (Lithuanian, b. 1959). His Stomping Bride - with harpsichord, gamba, recorders, and percussion - is a folksy celebration. [...] Other striking new voices heard include Rytis Mažulis (Lithuanian, b. 1961), who contributes perhaps the most hypnotic music here with The Dazzled Eye Lost Its Speech, a dizzying canonic swirl of repetitive whole-tones. An imaginative, folk-flavoured setting of just the title world Alleluia is heard from Algirdas Martinaitis.
American Record Guide