Tõnu Kõrvits: Moorland Elegies

review korvits x1 cong

We may not know a whole lot about classical music, but we know a lot about moorland, having spent many a happy hour tramping hills. We can never listen to certain pieces by Elgar without hearing the wind blowing through the grass on the Malvern Hills at dusk.

This nine-part cycle for mixed choir and string orchestra is not suggestive of tramping up to the Iron Age splendour of British Camp, however; it portrays a far more elusive vista, shrouded in fog and mysterious, and possibly not even real: in the sleeve notes the composer says the music is a journey “into the most mysterious corners of loneliness”. We don’t think he means the rather scary New Year’s Eve that we took a wrong turn in the mist above Kettlewell as darkness fell, but there is an English angle despite the music’s Baltic roots — the lyrics are drawn from selected poems by Emily Brontë.

The music is created by choir and strings, weaving in and out of each other. It’s mostly abstract and repetitive; there is little in the way of tune. Some of the bolder sections sound like the kind of music you might hear in a Dan Brown movie, where he wants to suggest medieval awe in a church setting. But the music looks inwards and not upwards; it’s more contemplation than devotion. On the other hand, it’s not claustrophobic, and not disturbing or threatening, a Turner watercolour rather than the detailed imagery of Bosch.

Out on Ondine, ODE 1306-2. The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra provide the sounds.

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