Antarctica, the vast icy uninhabited land mass, has cast a spell over many a man. Montréal’s Valmar Kurol is not an explorer like Ernest Shackleton but definitely one smitten by the beauty that he has encountered there.
In 1999 Kurol sent the undersigned a copy of his CD Antarctic Arrival: a Tribute to a Frozen Land, a much enjoyed recording that was introduced to readers on the pages of “Meie Elu” on September 28 of that year. Estonian has the word “lummav” that is not easy to translate but certainly applies to that CD. The best meaning in English is a combination of the concept of enchantment, bewitchment and the state of being spellbound or fascinated. It is evident that Antarctica has a real hold on Kurol.
That CD was so memorable that I found myself, while enjoying the 2001 IMAX movie Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure, thinking that Kurol’s compositions would have suited being part of the soundtrack. The same applied when I enjoyed the 2006 Oscar-winning movie “March of the Penguins.” Musical evidence that Kurol captures the essence of the frozen continent.
In August the composer released a new CD: Ross Sea Suites and other Antarctic Tone Poems. The new recording is a collaboration with Michael Stibor, who plays synthesizers (and did the programming) and guitar here, and was responsible for the arranging and mixing of the disc. The genre is difficult to categorize, introspective and soothing, meditative while being at times stirring. New Age might come closest, but this CD defies that label, Enya it ain’t. I thank Valmar here for sending me a copy.
The following lines are from the Montréal Estonian Society website, where the release was first announced. “This album is based on the places and histories encountered during Valmar Kurol’s 5-week long semi-circumnavigation voyage by ship, along Western Antarctica in 2015. The trip focused on the Ross Sea area, which was the major portal to Antarctica during the Golden Age of Antarctic exploration in the early 1900s. It is an orchestral-sounding album with 11 instrumental suites, which he composed with a collaborator, Michael Stibor. There are also two bonus vocal tracks on it (the last one of which was co-written and sung by his wife, Carole Desmarteau).”
Kurol’s music certainly leads to looking inward. Ross Sea Suites, after a number of plays, remains with the listener. Perhaps best, as experimented, heard in darkness, conjuring up images retained in visual memory, the mind’s eye, from the two movies mentioned above.
Of the instrumental tracks the one that captivated these ears most was “The Bellinghausen Sea”. Curiously enough, that sea is named after explorer Fabian von Bellinghausen, the Estonian Baltic German commander of a major Russian expedition to Antarctica in the 1820’s. Subliminal appeal because of the Estonian connection? I wonder… Another choice track is “The Dry Valleys”; according to Kurol’s liner notes a “peaceful, otherworldly and desiccated region, a desolate place, slightly spooky and beautiful, all at the same time.” The composer achieves the goal of putting those perceptions and reactions into splendid, haunting music.
“Invasion of the King Crabs” is perky, humorous, and captures the movement of the decapod crustaceans who have recently been noticed as marching, just like the penguins, up the continental shelf.
The last instrumental on the CD, “Stranded on the Ross Ice Shelf blues” is a polar version of swampy, bluesy music describing an ice shelf that is the size of France. The largest known iceberg in history broke off the shelf in 2000, being larger than the area of Jamaica. A fine tune to lead into the bonus and enjoyable vocal tracks.
Frankly, being a lover of winter, and the likelihood is real that I will only visit Antarctica vicariously, through film and music, I look forward to listening to this CD on a February blizzard day in Muskoka, after snowshoeing through minus 20 temperatures that are nowhere close to the frigid air experienced by all Antarctic explorers. As Stibor hopes, this recording can bring one closer to Antarctica from afar. That includes the indefatigable modern composer, describing in tone poems his beloved continent, Valmar Kurol.
It is available at for $13 including shipping in Canada, and will soon be available for download on iTunes and Amazon. It is also available from Indiepool.com at www.indiepool.com/KUROL002DIS
There will shortly be a web site at www.rossseasuites.com
The inspiring continent