If you were touring with one world-renowned, Grammy-winning chorus and one fine but less-famous orchestra, which would you choose to feature?
On Thursday night at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, conductor Tonu Kaljuste — who founded both groups, the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra — showed he had a favorite child: He was definitely more interested in the instrumentalists than the singers.
It was a surprising emphasis, and not a happy one for those who came primarily to hear the chorus.
The orchestra performed two instrumentalist-only pieces. The choir, which is noted for its a cappella work, did no stand-alone singing. Because the singers were placed behind the players on the church steps, without risers, the instrumentalists dominated the sounds as well as the sights of the performance, too often covering the chorus.
The program was oddly constructed, too. The first half was all by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt: one orchestral work, one for male chorus and orchestra, one for female chorus (and one baritone) and orchestra, and, finally, one that involved all the forces.
The music was all well-done, and it was great to have the opportunity to hear these unusual works. The problem is that Pärt’s music is in a mystical-minimalist style that doesn’t offer much variety; there was too much sameness to it.
Pärt at his best was represented in his 2004 “Da pacem Domine (Give peace, Lord),” a simple, slow-moving but deep work, beautifully done. That’s as it should be; this won them the Grammy last year. It would have shown better paired with music that provided a greater contrast.
The second half opened with another Estonian composer, Erkki-Sven Tüür’s “Action, Passion, Illusion,” for string orchestra. A “deconstruction of a Baroque theme,” it was a busy, fascinating piece with surprising twists and resolutions, brilliantly performed.
Antonio Vivaldi’s “Beatus Vir” was a surprising choice for a big finale, and its segmented nature did not show the group at its best. The blend within sections was imperfect, with individual voices sticking out too frequently for a group of this stature.
It is to be hoped that Cathedral Concerts will bring them back, but with a stronger, more balanced program.
Vt. ka: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch