Mendelssohn | Kreek Review

09.01.12
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Gramophone

By Malcolm Riley

The Estonians' latest calling card (recorded in 2009) is a highly satisfying, generously filled a cappella program of mostly little-heard music. Even the items by Mendelssohn (with a handful of familiar exceptions) deserve a much wider currency than I suspect they currently receive. Daniel Reuss draws impassioned and mellifluous performances from his Grammy Award-winning choir of 24 voices. Its beautifully blended, creamy tone (especially in the altos) and clarion-like tenors are underpinned by warm basses.

Of the Mendelssohn selection, the Three Psalms of 1843-44 stand out especially, being notable for their integrity and deep spirituality. Every colour of the word-painting is carefully nuanced here. The ladies float ethereally in 'Lift thine eyes' (from Elijah) and the sonorous gravitas of the male-chorus 'Wie selig sind die Toten' is especially effective.

Homophonic textures dominate the works of Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962), a notable folksong collector from 1911, St Petersburg-trained and a major figure in the foundation of post-First World War Estonian musical life. Although he composed a substantial Requiem in C minor for chorus and orchestra, he is best known for his unaccompanied choral music, over 700 pieces of which are based on folk music. His psalm settings sit happily among the blooms of Mendelssohn's garden. Stylistically, he reminds one strongly of Grieg, with a hint of the Russian Orthodox tradition. All of this music is carefully crafted; Psalms 104 and 137 are by far the most striking. The sacred folksongs are charming and haunting in equal measure. Full translations are helpfully provided. A disc to savor.