The dress code for the performers was rigorous black, while the repertoire initially exuded only grey and white. Yet the night still had a festive air; this was the first UK event this year to celebrate the centenary of Estonia’s independence from the Russian Empire in February 1918. Estonia’s prime minister, Juri Ratas, came along.
Yet the most welcome visitors were surely the marvellous singers of the Estonian Philharmonic Choir and their conductor Kaspars Putnins. Even when Part’s rising or falling melodic lines cumulatively outstayed their welcome, we could always bask in the choir’s perfect intonation, dazzling clean tone and unanimity of attack. Every vocal strand had depth, not least the basses, who rooted the textures with a rounded solidity that always seems beyond British throats.
Among the Part collection the early “holy minimalist” classic Summawas dispatched with grave beauty, while Dopo la vittoria, composed in 1996 in homage to St Ambrose, offered a welcome increase in speed and colours just when I was beginning to feel too bleached.
Much more variety featured in the second half. Haunting British music arrived with Jonathan Harvey’s late and mesmerising Plainsongs for Peace and Light. Estonia’s folk music crept into the easy harmonies of two pieces by Cyrillus Kreek. And who could resist Veljo Tormis’s Curse Upon Iron, 11 incantatory minutes accompanied by drum thwacks, briskly spattered with the Estonian words for plutonium, saliva and, at one point, “boghole’s ore”? Frankly I’d be happy to hear Putnins’s choir sing even worse words than that.