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Arctic Scenes - Seitakuoro

Arctic Scenes - Seitakuoro

Alba Records  NCD 43

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Timo Kurki: Kulnasadž vaatimeni (Kulnasadž, My Reindeer), Tuulikki Närhinsalo: Lapin tytön laulu (Lappish Girl's Song), Jukka Kankainen: Lauluja Lapista (Songs of Lapland), Verensulkusanat (Blood-Stanching Charm), Trad. (arr. Kullervo Karjalainen): Juoigaisteadnud – Let Us Sing a Yoik, A series of Sami yoiks, Kullervo Karjalainen: Arktisia näkyjä (Arctic Scenes), Jan Hellberg: Tunturikulkijan tunnelmia (Feelings of the Fell Traveller), Lauloa minä lupasin (I Promised to Sing)

Seitakuoro Chamber Choir
Kadri Joamets (conductor)

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Review by John Miller - August 22, 2013

Lapland is the northernmost region of Finland, with boundaries to Norway, Sweden and Russia. This region had a chequered territorial history, as one might expect. It is part of the north Fennoscandian land of the Sami people, whose nomadic style of life, hunting, trapping, fishing and trading, followed the seasons. As an indigenous people, and now an ethnic minority, their arts and literature are unique and still influence the present-day Western population. Much of this is kept alive by many Festivals throughout the region.

Alba's disc provides a fascinating insight into this northern music, sung by the Seitakuro Chamber Choir, which was founded in1961 in the school of a small town. From the start, its core repertoire was Lapland's music, new texts and compositions being gathered in from the many Sami Festivals held each year. A determined group of amateur singers struggled with the often harsh conditions of the far north, with a frequent lack of men to take part, difficulties with conductors and fiscal cuts in local resources. This is briefly and candidly outlined in the insert booklet. The resolve of choir members to continue never wavered, and their strong roots overcame many problems, including a rapid cycling of conductors. A recent period of stabilization and success in many national and international singing competitions was initiated by the arrival of their present conductor, Kadri Joamets.

Born and trained in Estonia, Kadri Joamets graduated in Conducting from the Tallinn Academy of Music in 1998, when she moved to Roviniemi in the southern part of Lapland, the home of Seitokuro since the 1960s. She joined as a singer, but soon was directing their rehearsals, becoming choir conductor in 1999. Her success is marked not only by the awards now being gained by the choir, but by the personal awards given to her for cultural achievement in Finland.

Recorded in 2011, this SA-CD celebrates the Jubilee (50 years) of Seitakuoro, and naturally is devoted to the people and nature of Lapland, representing the best works from the Region. Most of the pieces on this disc have been written specially for the choir.

As a chamber choir, the present Seitakuro's membership is S12,A8,T6, B6. They sing with a very open tone and without vibrato, which gives them a freshness and purity, especially the sopranos. There is a sonorous bass which is their foundation. They have been recorded in the extremely high-resolution capture system of DXD, mastered down to DSD for pressing. The engineering is first class, with the ample and sympathetic church acoustic giving the voices an attractive glow. Precision of focus for the layout of the choir sections is breathtakingly realistic, with a wide sound stage.

The programme is a rich and unusual one. 'My Reindeer' (1977), set by Timo Kurki to a poem by a Sami priest from the late 1600s, reminds us of the importance of Reindeer husbandry for the Sami. It is a heartfelt conversation with a reindeer on a long journey to meet a lover. A combination of speech rhythms, simple modal harmonies and unisons are quite touching. The forlorn 'Lappish Girl's Song' (1981) describes painful separation from her beloved by hills and mountains, ending with the irritating restraint of "snow, snow, whirling snow". A haunting piece indeed, with a tune which lasts long in the memory.

Jukka Kankainen's 'Songs of Lapland' (1981) is more modern-sounding, and evokes the Lapland 'Spring Morning', ' Harvest' and an eerie 'Birth of the Northern Lights'. Next, the programme moves onto one of the root influences of Lappish song; the Sami Joik (pronounced yoik). Handed down from singer to singer, Joiking is a musical way of describing Nature, Landscape, survival activities, personalities and their personal aspects. Like the Sami world-view, which has no beginning or end, there is no Western song structure; the songs simply start and stop without notice. The object of the song is not merely represented, but the song is considered to become the object itself. Having sat in a Sami tent in a pre-tundra landscape pestered by large biting mosquitos to hear a Sami Joiker performing in traditional costume, I can attest to the powerful influence of the Joik. 'Let us sing a Joik' (1962) is a compilation by Kullervo Karjalainen, somewhat westernised and put into modern choral form. Spirited and beautifully idiomatic performances from the choir.

'Arctic Scenes' (1971) supplies the title of the disc, a wonderfully dramatic and original set of songs by Kullervo Karjalainen (a former choir member) to lyrics by Oiva Arvola. It was intended for the 10th Anniversary of the choir, but as the once more candid notes tell us, caused a rift in the choir. Some members were not familiar with modern music and were against singing it; others protested the "uncouth words" and left. Despite these very difficult rehearsals, the piece was finally sung at the 10th Festival and a few times after, but Kajalainen left as conductor, and the choir filed it away. It has been unearthed for the 2011 Jubilee, and 40 years later, with a technically very proficient choir now specialised in modern music, it is one of the disc's highlights.

'Arctic Scenes' brilliantly paints in musical images the stark and challenging Lapland habitats and the struggles of the people who live there. The six scenes take place in a rural bar, and the work conjures suggestions of buzzing mosquitos, bleak swamps and desiccated pine trees. There are two soloists, soprano and baritone, and accompaniment by cello, flute and small Shamanic drum. In 'Confession', the choir engage in a spoken/chanted dialogue behind a baritone solo, everyone trying to have their say - a remarkable and amusing scene. There are no melodies as such, but varying soundscapes and motifs, some of which are lyrical.

The drum, somewhat deeper, appears also in the terrifyingly-named 'Blood-Staunching Charm' by Kankainen (1983), another shamanic process which may well be useful in the wilderness. On a lighter note, the last tracks are by Jan Hellberg, who uses more popular rhythms and tune-shapes, including Jazz and Swing but still keeping the Kalevala style. The 6-part 'Feelings of the Fell Traveller' (2011) is most entertaining, showing off the choir in shifting vocal colours and textures, including competing close-harmony groups. The last track. 'I Promise to Sing' has become the signature piece for Seitakuoro; they can even perform it in sign-language!

Or IS it the last track? Listeners with screens which show the SA-CD programme texts will see a 20th track. There is a long silent gap at the end of Tr 19, then suddenly you are made to jump by the men of the chorus shouting "Randala!, Randala! (as far as I can tell). This bonus track is marked 'Maantieteellinen fuuga' (Geographic Fugue, according to an online translation) and is a virtuosic fast-paced rhythmic chant - very impressive and a great finale.

This is one of the most attractive, original and thought provoking choral discs I have come across in some time. It draws one into the life of the Laplanders in an honest and revealing way, and celebrates the very fine performances of Seitokuoro and their talented conductor. Highly commended to collectors interested in the music of Finland, and to all chorus followers.

Copyright © 2013 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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