Rachmaninov’s Vespers is one of the highpoints of the unaccompanied chorale repertoire; the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir one of its ideal interpreters. The choir, which won a Grammy Award earlier this year, has few equals in its chosen repertoire and its lush, typically Slavic-sounding delivery is well-suited for Rachmaninov’s choral writing.
The Vespers was billed as the headline work in the choir’s British tour, although it did not turn out to be the highlight. This was not due to the performance itself; as full-blooded and intense sounding as expected, even if the choir’s English-born director, Paul Hillier, kept the music moving forward at a pace that played down the work’s meditative qualities. In the event, Rachmaninov was eclipsed by what came before as the Estonians joined forces with the Orlando Consort for what was probably the first Scottish performance of Scattered Rhymes by US-based British composer Tarik O’Regan.
The Orlando Consort, an esteemed name on the early music circuit, is chalk and cheese to the Estonians; the sparse blend of the male-voice quartet the antithesis of the depth of sound of the 30-strong mixed choir, but this works well for O’Regan’s piece. The text and inspiration for Scattered Rhymes comes from the fourteenth-century; the poetry of Petrarch and an anonymous contemporary Englishman and Machaut’s Messe de Notre Dame. The result is a richly textured work in which medieval fuses with modern in an accomplished performance. It was prefaced by another work that blends ancient and modern, Super flumina by Gavin Bryars, performed solo by the Orlando Consort, for whom it was written.