Geoffrey Norris reviews the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir / Hillier and the New Zealand SO / Judd

The traditional Maori greeting staged by the Manaia Maori Performing Arts Company was a welcoming launch to last night’s New Zealand Prom.

It was given by the country’s senior symphony orchestra, and had the young Dunedin-born bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu as soloist in a selection of Mahler’s settings of Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The programme also featured a work by Douglas Lilburn, the composer who, more than any other, flew the national flag internationally until his death four years ago…

The previous evening’s late night Prom was one of those ideal end-of-day programmes, soothing in some respects but with sufficiently intriguing ingredients to be stimulating as well.  It was given by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, conducted by Paul Hillier, and was designed to celebrate the 70th birthday of the major Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt.

The choir began with an anonymous plainsong, Te Deum.  The men’s voices gave a lithe performance of Sederunt principes by the medieval Parisian Pérotin.  Pärt’s psalm-setting, An den Wassern zu Babel, demonstrated the extent to which his music had been influenced by such early sources, with plainsong intonations and flexibility transmuted into his own haunting style.  Similar juxtapositions offered illuminating comparisons between the medieval and the modern.  For my money, though, the medieval made much the more memorable impression.