Tõnu Kõrvits is an impressively unpredictable composer. Just when you think that the very brief Azure (2016 17) is becoming formulaic, for example, with its lamenting gestures, it metamorphoses unexpectedly into something strange and archaic-sounding. Hymns to the Nordic Lights (2011) begins like Impressionistic Sibelius before dissolving into luminous shards of melody, and there’s a sense of everything being delicately balanced, as though seen through vapour or, I suppose, in this case, the aurora borealis, a feeling of moving in and out of focus. It is far from being mood music, however, in spite of the fact that it suggests atmospheres so well; it is engaging and colourful. The final movement suggests some kind of gigantic wind harp ruffled, so to speak, by the vibrations of the lights.
Quite different is the three-movement Silent Songs (2015) for bass clarinet and orchestra, gorgeously played by Meelis Vind. It’s softer, more lyrical, and the second movement, ‘Sacred River’, has an oriental tinge. The final movement, ‘Farewell Farewell’, is also the longest, and is as valedictory-sounding as its title suggests. It has this in common with the most recent piece on the disc, Leaving Capri (2018), though they are very different in other respects.
The work that leaves the strongest impression on me is the Dowland-inspired Tears Fantasy (2011), in which echoes of the earlier composer shine through clouds of brass and flurries of strings, though there are also some arresting moments in the earliest piece on the disc, Elegies of Thule (2007). The Estonian National SO play throughout with the greatest of conviction and the glossiest tone, driven on by Risto Joost’s unique understanding of Kõrvits’s work, and the recording is everything one would expect from Ondine.