This new album from the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir reinforces their position as one of the world’s leading vocal ensembles. Paul Hillier directs them through a deeply satisfying survey of music by the Ukrainian-born Estonian composer Galina Grigorjeva (b1962). Stylistically, she follows in the long shadow of Rachmaninov, bracing an essential serenity with the subtlest of richer harmonic tints, while stretching her singers both emotionally as well as in terms of their tessitura (oh, those basses!). She is the mistress of cadential suspense, a modernist who respects the past.
Thanks to the swimmingly resonant acoustic of Tallinn’s Niguliste Church, the slow music comes off best, especially the shimmering arch-shaped In paradisum of 2012. Three settings from Joseph Brodsky’s Nature morte form the core of the recital (and provide the disc’s title). Composed in 2008 and sung in English, they include some atmospheric extended vocal techniques, in addition to paper-rustling.
In the disc’s most recent work, the haunting Salve reginaof 2013, the four singers who comprise Theatre of Voices are complemented by the Yxus Quartet. Here, clustered vibrato-free chords, supported by long cello drones, enhance a slow chant-like melody which grows ever more impassioned, embellished by high, sliding violin harmonics. Another highlight is the setting of the Nunc dimittis and an Orthodox lament. Finer male voice choir singing will be hard to find.
As a bonus there is the astonishing Lament (2000) for solo recorder, a musical aviary played by Conrad Steinmann, a tour de force of virtuoso technique and something that all serious students of the recorder should hear and then attempt to emulate. Strongly recommended on all counts.