Here we have the 6th Veljo Tormis record and also the 2nd and last from the Ellerhein Chamber Choir. Not just the last in terms of time, but also due to the fact that shortly after recording this album the choir formally turned professional and we now know them as the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. The development of the choir over the last several years has been strongly associated with Veljo Tormis, whose works they perform in practically every concert programme and who, in turn, has dedicated many song cycles to the choir. One of these – Ingrian Evenings – we hear on this very record. This fruitful collaboration seems to have had a formative effect on both, on the one hand the folkloric repertoire of the choir has been considerably enlarged, on the other, a theatrical element has developed in Tormis’ choral music. The finale of Ingrian Evenings is an example of this as the choir gradually leaves the stage, as each voice section repeats its own portion from the opening of the cycle. This movement is even effectively demonstrated in this recording. The theatrical element was one of the means by which the Ellerhein Chamber Choir was able to vary and make its programmes more interesting – in such events as happenings and staged evenings of estonian folk poetry and music.
The works on this record are derived from different periods of Tormis’ career and, according to the composer, are clear markers of the varying stages of his compositional development.
Autumn Landscapes (1964), originally for female choir, is the first part of a four part cycle titled Nature Pictures, which was also the largest choral work at that time by Tormis, who had not yet completely dedicated himself to choral work. It is also too early to detect a folkloric element here, although Autumn Landscapes had been preceded by Kihnu Wedding Songs and other folk song influenced works. The present day Tormis can be recognized from the strong attachment between the text (words by Viivi Luik) and the music and the well thought out and economical choral structure.
Curse Upon Iron (1972), which is described as a scene for mixed choir, tenor and baritone soloists and shaman drum (text compiled, arranged and enhanced by August Annist, Paul-Eerik Rummo and Jaan Kaplinski) is already noticeably written by the Tormis we know today and who it is impossible to mistake for any other composer. The composer has said that the piece was in gestation for 7 years before it was finally written down. The final incentive was provided by a choral music competition where the now well-known Estonian work won the second prize. The compositional urge may have come from the competition but the musical revelation, which allowed the composer’s ideas to be realized, was a korjak drum, whose shaman-like sound and rhythmic magic can reach out to every listener. From the composer’s notes we can read: "The work’s text is based on the incantations of the Kalevala, in the concluding passages a contemporary motif has been added. The work’s inner structure reflects the basic principles of ancient shamanism: the description of the birth of a thing and the understanding of its experience gives one power over it. These finno-ugric incantations are an example of how this understanding can be achieved. By such a method, mankind must gain power over technology (iron), as it has been created by humans who must ensure that it is used only for creative and not destructive ends. This choral scene is meant as a word of warning in this regard".
Ingrian Evenings (Inkerin illat, 1979, texts adapted by Ada Ambus) is, as of now, Tormis’ largest choral cycle and reflects his frequent pre-occupation with the smaller groups of finno-ugric peoples. Here we are dealing with arrangements of recent Ingrian Finnish (ethnographically, Ingria lies between the Narva River and Lake Ladoga) folklore dances and game songs. The composer has preserved the original folk tunes and has attempted to structure them in appropriate formats, partially just for the purely technical requirements of notating them. This is not so very easy, as we are dealing with many repetitions, within which, no repetition is exactly identical. The sections are joined together by memorable rhythmic passages of the male voices (tinn-tinn vei-vei a.o.) which are sometimes louder and sometimes softer and which frequently sound like they are imitating instruments. The melodies are primarily monodies. Harmony, where it occurs, is reminiscent of the sound of bagpipes. The karmoška imitation (Liekkulaulu II) is derived from the Vepsians and the Izhorians. The breath inhalation effect is present in the original folksongs. Here we see the intent to convey authentic folksong to contemporary listeners, to maintain the inner principles of folksong, to find a compromise between it and the understanding of the present day audience and to be means of conveyance but not of transformation. This is perhaps how we should understand the message that is often stressed by Veljo Tormis "I do not use folk song, it is folk song that uses me".
(translation from the original Estonian LP notes to English by Alan Teder © 2002)