Other people devise league tables of wines, or left-handed batsmen since the war. I rank choirs. And on the basis of their Edinburgh Festival appearance (they were also at the Proms this week) the 26 choristers of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir soar right to the top of my Choral Champions League. Their basses are as fabulously deep-toned as any Russian choir’s, with the added advantage that they sing in tune and keep up with the beat. The upper voices are flexible yet full of character. Under the British conductor Paul Hillier they demonstrate faultless rapport.
I just wish that the repertoire hadn’t been so native. Why not a Bach motet, some vivid Gabrieli or sensuous Poulenc? One longed to hear such a well-blended choir tackling something other than the lugubriously crafted dirges of Toivo Tulev and the interminable chordal chanting of Arvo Pärt. True, we were given three wistfully romantic choral songs by Sibelius, and seven of Veljo Tormis’s adventurous and spirited Estonian folk song arrangements from his collection Jaanilaulud – in which speaking and glissandos are used to heighten the emotion. But the Estonians should have the confidence to place the burgeoning choral heritage of their homeland in an international context.
Monotony was also the problem at the Erguner Ensemble’s Greyfriars Kirk recital of music by the 18th-century Turkish composer Mustafa Itri. At first the robust baritone voices, sensuous Turkish flute, shimmering zither and strange, tinkling cymbal-drum mesmerised the ear, as did the modally inflected chants that seemed hauntingly poised between the Sufi world and Western music. But Itri also wrote vivacious music for whirling dervish ceremonies. We could have done with more whirling and a good deal less lamenting here. And also a programme that gave us, if not translations of the pieces, at least some idea of what they were about.