Estonia Choir Performs Sounds of Its People

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On Sunday afternoon, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir made a stop at the Clarice Smith Center on its North American tour. The program highlighted the music of living Estonian composers, one of this esteemed choir's specialties.

"Requiem," Erkki-Sven Tüür's memorial to conductor Peeter Lilje, offered an eclectic mix of sound worlds: ascetic chant, the repeated rhythmic cells of minimalism, the atonal shrieks of Messiaen-like birds. There was even the occasional unclassifiable din, like the opening of the "Dies Irae" movement, with its gonglike tintinnabulation produced by mallets and a steel brush applied to the piano strings. The choral intonation was so true that it made the most dissonant harmonies, such as those stacked up in the "Lacrimosa" movement, glisten.

Juxtaposed with Tüür's more varied and less consistently consonant style, the pieces by Arvo Pärt reinforced the impression that the more senior Estonian composer's work has stopped evolving and become instead a recognizable brand. With the collaboration of the warm strings of the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, the result was indisputably beautiful, especially the gentle undulation of "Da Pacem Domine," from the choir's Grammy-winning recording in 2006. A new version of Pärt's "L'abbé Agathon," a setting of a story from the "Sayings of the Desert Fathers," featured the clarion, cloudless voice of soprano Tui Hirv as the angel who tests the charity of Abba Agathon.

Vivaldi's double-choir setting of the psalm "Beatus Vir Qui Timet Dominum," RV 597, disappointed, as heavily melismatic passages were not as secure in the voices, but its antiphonal opposition of orchestral and choral forces was performed with gentle suavity.

-- Charles T. Downey


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