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Crystals from my Homeland, a fitting name for a concert offered this past Friday, Feb. 29/08. The audience found itself battling fierce winter weather and heavy traffic to attend the performance presented by the Tartu College Cultural Program.

07 Mar 2008 09:53 Eerik Purje (translation: Lembitu Ristsoo)
Pilt: S. Meresmaa


kersti ala-murr jaak lutsoja.jpg

The evening's program presented soprano Kersti Ala-Murr, this being her first appearance in Toronto, and accordionist Jaak Lutsoja, who had previosly played Toronto in numerous ensemble engagements. Their performance was accompanied by Toronto musicians, bariton Avo Kittask, bass-baritone Andres Raudsepp and pianist Charles Kipper.

Glancing at the program, one could feel that the disturbingly flamboyant and multifaceted content could raise grave misgivings to an audience used to established and traditional presentations. These notions were dispelled with the opening notes, setting a homey and unique atmosphere, which continued and enveloped the entire evening.

When the flicking of the lights had settled the attending audience, they were greeted by silence and an empty, low podium, the "stage". Then, the unaccompanied vocal notes from Kreek's "Awake, my heart" began to float from the rear of the hall. As the singer was revealed, dressed in a striking Estonian folk costume, she moved at a lingering pace alongside the audience, settling upon the "stage". The conclusion of her a cappella presentation, saw her joined by the accordionist, who, arriving in the same manner, smoothly moved the music to new motifs. Two well known pieces offered homage to Miina Härma and Anna Haava, eminent figures in the great Estonian Cultural Awakening. Only now did the audience have a chance to offer it's welcome with applause, that was expressed with exceptional warmth.

The folk costume worn by the vocalist, highlighted the Estonian theme of the presented compositions, although they were accompanied by some Norwegian works. This, of course, remained consistent with the evening's focus, since Norway had been Ala-Murr's new home for the past decades. All the performances were a masterful collaboration of the duo, reflected in all of the evening's presentations. The Setu folk tune of "Vellokône" turned out to be an audience favorite, where the soloist and accompanist were exceptionally dazzling.

The second half of the evening was more varied. It commenced with Jaak Lutsoja presenting three solo numbers, performed with spine tingling virtuosity. Kersti Ala-Murr re-appeared to the audience, now dressed in an elegant evening gown, with piano accompanist Charles Kipper. A couple of internationally themed pieces were offered, followed by a duet, with Avo Kittask, Mozart's "Don Giovanni", "La ci darem in mano".

Puccinis "O, mio babbino caro" ("Gianni Schicchi") demonstrated, that the accordion is an able accompanist in the world of opera. Following a number of popular Estonian numbers, Kersti Ala-Murr and Andres Raudsepp presented the duet by Vinter "Kui on meri hülgehall" and the evening's performance concluded with "Ta lendab mesipuu poole" by Sarapik with which the audience joined in.

After the performers had been venerated with flowers, the ovations refused to cease. To carry out a duet with Kersti, from Lehars "Merry Widow", Avo was "elevated" to tenor, reflecting his versatility. The final encore performed by the guest performers was the Setu piece from earlier in the evening. All present then joined in the partaking of wine, coffee and kringel.

Kersti Ala-Murr was astonishingly versatile and multi-faceted with her talents. A strong dramatic soprano (who could fill an evening with demanding arias), shone in every genre. She was genuine in her spirituality ("Vater unser" – Pärt), heartfelt in simple folk tunes, sparkling in her operatic and popular music pieces and an accomplished Setu yodeler.

Jaak Lutsoja was even a greater surprise, not only with his virtuosity, but in his musicality, that one doesn't expect from an accordionist. In this writer's experience, Lutsoja is the first to offer this instrument on a concert stage in such a profound manner. He is a deep rooted artist, not just a simple musician.

Andres Raudsepp deserves high accolades for facilitating the presentation of these two artists to the Toronto audience. Priceless crystals, not just sparkling glass.