Latvian Radio Choir at National Concert Hall, 3 May 2015
May Bank Holiday Weekend traditionally sees choral singers (and choir-music fans) head south to Cork for the International Choral Festival. A strange time to host an international choir concert in Dublin, then, which might explain why tonight’s audience isn’t as big as one might expect. For those who make it, however, there is much to look forward to.
Performing a selection of ten movements from the ‘Vespers’ (or All-Night-Vigil) by Rachmaninov – the composer’s impressionistic take on Russian liturgical tradition – the Latvian Radio Choir quickly show that this is music that they understand down to their bones. The twelve men and twelve women of the ensemble, conducted by Sigvards Klava, sing together to form a superbly blended sound, with an excellent balance of voices. The tenors and sopranos are clear and light at the top, while the altos and basses bring an impressive depth and warmth at the lower range. The ensemble brings this extraordinary music alive, not only through adept musicianship but also by showing an intuitive understanding of the work’s idiomatic style – its inner workings – which other ensembles would find hard to beat. The only source of frustration is the deadening effect of the concert hall’s acoustic, limiting the resonance of the voices.
This matters less in the second half, as more contemporary vocal effects – such as the use of shimmering overtones – suit the space far better, and even recreate the sense of a fuller acoustic. The move away from the ordered lines of the Rachmaninov is reflected physically as the ensemble stand in a long row along the back wall of the stage, voice-parts mixed, to sing Knut Nystedt’s Immortal Bach. Arranging Bach’s Komm, süsser Tod, the deconstructed chorale shifts expectations of time and tonality. Folk style comes under the spotlight in Eriks Ešenvalds’ Legend of The Walled-in Woman. It richly evokes Albanian traditions of singing and story-telling, and the vibrancy of the solo voices contrast with sustained, ethereal singing from the full group. Explorations of sonority and voice production are taken still further in Anders Hillborg’s wordless Mou:aa:yiy::oum. The choir reproduces its technical challenges with precision, creating wonderful effects, and the sense of secure control comes through even more strongly in the flawless account of György Ligeti’s glacial Lux Aeterna that follows.
The choir completes its programme with music by compatriot Peteris Vasks, bringing out its complexity with stunning clarity and delicacy. This is a concert to savour, with singing of fearless precision and beauty.
Sergei Rachmaninov: ‘Vespers’, Op. 37 (extracts) – movements 1-3, 6-9, 13-15
Knut Nystadt: Immortal Bach (1988)
Eriks Ešenvalds: Légende de la femme emmurée (2006)
Anders Hillborg: Mou:aa:yiy::oum (1986)
György Ligeti: Lux Aeterna (1966)
Peteris Vasks: Ziles zina (1981)
Latvian Radio Choir, conducted by Sigvards Klava