In a packed Salisbury Cathedral, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir captivated a rapt audience as dusk fell and the cathedral shrank to a candlelit nave.
The Choir performed a programme of music by composers from countries that cluster round the Baltic Sea.
Paul Hillier has inherited and refined an ensemble that sings with a focused and blended sound, without vibrato, but maintaining warmth and resonance in the tone.
Sven David Sandstrom’s Hear My Prayer, O Lord begins with Purcell’s well- known anthem, but then transforms into an extended meditative lament. The point of departure is marked by a sighing exhalation and rises to an ecstatic climax, the sound ultimately dissipating in a murmured swarming conclusion.
The programme began with Three Psalms by the Estonian Cyrillus Kreek. The control of the choir in a series of technically difficult works was impressive. The quality and timbre of the voices was consistent, regardless of pitch. The fat, rich bass sound earthed the choir with an unforced tone replicated throughout the ensemble.
|Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir|
Four Songs from the Cycle Gloria Patri by fellow Estonian Urmas Sisak showed
the choir’s ease with repetitive phrasing and extreme dynamic range and the most exquisite examples of solo voices emerging and returning almost imperceptibly from the choral texture.
The word painting in Danish composer Per Norgard’s Winter Hymn was finely wrought; a blanket of sound in a world smothered by snow. Once again a compelling bass ensemble was inter-cut with solo voices marking the passage of the seasons. A blossoming whorl of sound to the growth of a ‘bud’ in spring was striking in its singularity.
After the interval the choir performed extracts from the Kanon Pokajanen (Canon of Repentance) by Arvo Part.
The ostensible simplicity of the work is replete with pitfalls for a less competent choir. They maintained a remarkable discipline and control throughout the liturgy that reflects the border between day and night, suffering and salvation and the human and the divine.
The precision of the sustained unison, octave wide, bass/tenor duet in the Kontakion was exemplary and a foil to the wall of sound in the ensuing Ikos. In the pared down sound world of Part, less is more and more is never too much.
The vocal accuracy required to negotiate the bold and bald dialogue of his work was maintained with skill and energy.
The hypnotic world summoned up by Hiller and his Estonian singers had the audience entranced by the end.
The audience called for more and they got it – a measured and rich rendition of Rachmaninov’s Bogoroditse Devo from the All Night Vigil.