Tõnu Kõrvits (b. 1968)
The Sound of Wings (2022)
Sunday Wish (2020, arr. 2022)
Mariliis Tiiter (soprano: Sunday Wish)
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra/Risto Joost
rec. 2022, United Methodist Church, Tallinn, Estonia
Texts and translations included
Ondine ODE 1417-2 [54]

Tiibade häälThe Sound of Wings – is in some way Tõnu Kõrvits’s third panel of a trilogy for chorus and string orchestra. In 2015, he wrote Moorland Elegies, a setting of texts by Emily Brontë chosen and arranged by Doris Kareva. In 2019, he composed Sei la luce e il mattino to texts by Cesare Pavese. Now he turns to Kareva’s poem about Amelia Earhart. She was the first female pilot who crossed the Atlantic. She then attemptedto be the first woman to fly around the globe. She and navigator Fred Noonan were expected to make a stop on Howland Island in the Pacific but they never reached it. They disappeared, and the plane was never found. Kareva approaches Earhart’s story from an abstract, symbolic point of view rather than as a matter-of-fact retelling of the events. The Sound of Wings is about courage, life and death and loss, told in often moving terms.

Let me acknowledge with gratitude Kristel Pappel’s booklet note, which informed much of this review.

In the instrumental prelude “On the line…”, the viola plays an important role, and keeps returning as some point of anchor. Sometimes the music almost sounds like a distant cousin of Vaughan Williams in his meditative mood. The poem then unfolds into nine clearly delineated parts. After an instrumental interlude “Running North and South…”, the final part recapitulates the whole work. The titles of the two instrumental segments refer to words from the flight’s last radio transmission. Kristen Pappel writes that the first choir lines in part I recall ancient Greek tragedies: “You know the sky is my home – the sky and beyond. No one ever goes missing. Just the horizon is yet to be known.” Part II “The Touch of your hand” brings more intimate feelings. Part III “In the Currency of Courage” and part V “Thus Speaks the Heart” tell of courage and endeavour, and the price that one may have to pay. Part IV “One Love” is one of the longest and most gripping. A solitary voice, beautifully sung by the alto Marianne Pärna, is then joined by wordless chorus in a deeply moving aria.

Part VI “Lighthouse” talks more clearly of Earhart’s search for Howland Island’s lighthouse, but the music also tends to suggest loneliness and expectation. Until now, the piece has been about air, wind, emptiness; in part VII “The Star Stream”, it also considers the stars, in those times important signposts for navigators and aviators. The effect of shimmering stars is beautifully achieved by a four-voice canon of soprano and alto soloists. Magical indeed. Part VIII “Over Looking Glass Water” is the only one which deals with the element in which Earhart and her navigator disappeared. After the interlude, part IX sums up of what has been heard before, text and music. Words from parts I and II reappear along with the viola solo that began the work. The choir sings first with the orchestra and then with the solo soprano’s high-flying vocalise. The music thus reaches an ecstatic climax while the meditative viola slowly dies away.

The Sound of Wings is a gripping piece of music. One is led through a remarkably varied musical landscape thanks to Kõrvits’s inventive writing for voices and for strings. The work is also tightly knit by recurring verbal and musical phrases that keep strengthening the overall structure. Consider in particular the ever-present tiibade hääl (the sound of wings) which is really the all-important thread in the piece. Over the years, Kõrvits has developed a remarkable mastery in instrumental and choral writing. This piece bears ample proof. The substantial and often beautiful work is well served by everyone concerned, and the solo parts are all very well done, with special marks to the violist.

The programme is rounded off by a short, fairly simple song PühapäevasoovSunday Wish – to words by Doris Kareva. Originally written for female voices, the piece was arranged for soprano (beautifully sung here by Mariliis Tiiter), female voices and strings. This finely crafted work makes for a moving coda.

All in all, there is the immaculate playing of violist Laur Eensalu, an important protagonist in the main work; the splendid singing of members of the choir and of the whole choir; and the superb support from the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, insightfully led by Risto Roost.

Hubert Culot

Previous review: Rob Barnett (July 2023)

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