Thursday, November 15, 2018

concert review: Estonians

The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra are making a world tour in honor of the centenary of Estonian independence (of course, the country spent half that period with its independence voided, but I don't expect that the Estonians like to dwell on that), and Stanford was one of the few U.S. stops.

I thought about asking to review this, but I'm glad I didn't bother, because it would have been a difficult concert to review adequately. Instead I just went on my own hook, and my own nickel, too. Unlike the times I've gone to concerts by the Venezuelans or the Kazakhs, nobody in the audience brought any national flags to wave.

I'd had the impression it was to be an all-Arvo Pärt concert, which is why I was eager to go, but instead it turned out to be a half-Pärt concert. It began with the orchestra playing Pärt's Cantus, technically very well, but strongly accented and emotionally dry. This was followed by two Pärt choral works with the orchestra, neither as enchanting as I'd hoped, and both mostly notable for the sheer quality of the choir. Salve Regina had attractive choral phrases running over tiny wisps of sound from the orchestra (strings and celesta). Adam's Lament, setting a text in Old Church Slavonic, was heavier and thicker.

The other half consisted of experimental pieces that required the choir to whisper a lot and grunt a little. Strangely, they were still good at this. One was Carlo by Brett Dean (an Australian composer), which takes a Don Carlo Gesualdo madrigal and runs it through the kind of changes associated with losing a radio station signal. The other, Concerto per voci e strumenti by Lepo Sumera (yes, an Estonian composer) sets nonsense texts that are supposed to sound like Estonian without actually being it. A lot of syllables beginning with K. Odd but interesting.

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