Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Veljo Tormis - Litany to Thunder

2000; 8 tracks
Marrit Gerretz-Traksmann / Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

For fans of Arvo Pärt and other experimental/contemporary classical artists:

"This startling record begins with two sopranos and a gentle piano sounding for all the world like Enya singing Satie; two tracks later we have a hair-raising chorus and drum hurling curses upon iron (which makes the tools of work and war). It's all the work of Estonian composer Veljo Tormis, who uses simple, even primitive melodies and ancient folk poetry (perhaps too simple for some listeners, especially those who understand no Finnish or Estonian) with exciting, sometimes atonal but always accessible accompaniment for chorus and/or instruments. The results can be plaintive and calm or vigorous, even feral. The most entertaining piece on the disc is 'The Bishop and the Pagan,' which retells (in a way) the story of St. Henry, who was martyred on a frozen lake in 1158 by an angry peasant with an ax. An alto and two tenors sing a medieval Latin poem in praise of Henry to a very chantlike melody in parallel fifths; meanwhile, baritones and basses pound out (softly at first) an ancient Finnish lyric told from the peasant's point of view. The highlight is when the Henry trio is reduced to a wordless on-pitch howling while the peasant's chant is at its strongest - followed by a surprisingly witty ending. Not coincidentally, the next piece on the record, Litany to Thunder, depicts the sacrifice of an ox to the god of thunder and rain. Frankly, it's terrifying."



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