November 2008

Music for the Soul
The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra

presented by Soundstreams and New World Classics
November 20, 2008 St. Anne's Anglican Church Toronto
In pursuit of a shining beauty
by David Fujino
The Founder and Artistic Director of Soundstreams, oboist Lawrence Cherney, said that although Estonians have been occupied by foreign powers for long periods of their history, they have — in overwhelming numbers — chosen to resist in song rather than make war.

On this night, under the resonant blue and gold dome of St. Anne's Church — in their own voice — the combined artistic forces of 26 choristers from the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the 20-piece Tallinn Chamber Orchestra shared with an absolutely packed house their musical and spiritual history through a varied programme of transcendental voice and string music.

Without much ado, a work of church music, Antonio Vivaldi's "Beatus vir" (RV 597) for two choirs and two orchestras, commenced the concert. The strings' deft entry immediately impressed and soothed and set the tone. But inside the strings' clear and mellow timbre played a subtle and sophisticated, yet firm sense of purpose. As conducted by Tonu Kaljuste, the nine separate sections felt like a continuous flow, where particular sections stood out and might feature female and male voices engaged in the simple tonal joys of triadic harmony as in "Gloria et divitiae"; where the lilting 3/4 of "Potens in terra" gradually revealed a bass undercurrent of male voices underneath high unison strings; where, as in "Jucundus homo", soprano Karoliina Kriis's precise and skittering lines embroidered and structured a musical space defined by an organ's sure-footed pedal stops.

A distinctly modern and post-modern feeling next descended upon us with the sounding of "The Seven Last Words of Christ" (2007-2008), written by the Canadian composer, Paul Frehner. The deeply troubling sights and sounds of war, and a general feeling of ennui in a sliding world of uncertainty characterized his cantata for high voice, choir, and string orchestra. The women deliberately sang the text, "You ... death", which preceded a full chorus solo, then a segment with an eerie slipping pitch, and then a shimmer of voices that brought us to "It is Finished", the last words of Christ as he lay dying on the cross. The moving work concluded with a single high violin.

During the entire evening of four compositions, several characteristics about Estonian music and approach kept emerging — for example, the use of shifting pedal points with a descending bass line, and especially the use of the drone (one note) in the pursuit of a meditative and purifying state of mind.

Such vivid examples of spiritually enlightened musical thinking and acting predominated in the concluding two works by Arvo Part, one of Estonia's most revered composers. The string orchestra's arabesque phrases in "Orient and Occident" (2000) for string orchestra were broad, rhythmical, and textured, while from inside, the music rang out single tones that sustained, and tones that quivered. The concert's concluding piece was Part's "Te Deum" (1984-1985/1992) for choir, string orchestra, prepared piano and taped wind harp. The mounted speakers emitted the taped low drone of a wind harp; on top of this we heard a layer of distant male voices; next a string drone; then a layer of womens' high celestial voices that prepared the way for the group strings and basses. This nature-based composition flowed with a romanticism tempered by reason that came to seem so Estonian.

The purposing of music — to express one's self and go beyond one's self — lived in the music played-and-sung this Thursday night under the resonant blue and gold dome of St. Anne's Church.

Thereafter, to continuous applause, the choristers and the orchestra had performed a light encore piece, and then left the stage.

We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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The Live Music Report
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