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March 8, 2006

Esoterics ably voice challenging Finnish work

Seattle Post-Intelligenser (WA):

Several times a year, we hear music of the Greek and Russian Orthodox churches in performances from Cappella Romana. For two weekends, The Esoterics are offering the chance to hear liturgy from the Orthodox Church of Finland, the "Vigilia" of Einojuhani Rautavaara. The sonorous richness of the Greek and Russian styles, largely sung by men, gave way to full choir sounds and the cool, crystal timbres of Scandinavian choral tradition.

Written in 1971 on commission from the Helsinki Festival and the Orthodox Church of Finland, Rautavaara later adapted his "Vigilia" for concert performance, and it was this that was heard Sunday at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Medina.

The Esoterics are an ideal group to sing this difficult, lengthy, unaccompanied work (more than 80 minutes with intermission). "Vigilia" requires extraordinary pitch sense, particularly when singing in microtones as in the solo liturgical recitations. The 50-member chorus never seemed thrown by this. Rautavaara also uses moments of ghostly whispers, others of almost speech, and glissading tones that mirror the sense of the words. The tonal range was extreme, down to what sounded like impossibly low notes, and strainingly high for the soprano solos, especially hard since much of the singing was quiet.

The music is tonal, sometimes hymnlike in an even, running rhythm rather than in a typical chant style; and much of the work is antiphonal or with solo opening phrases, as one would expect in a service. Of the soloists, bass Will Thayer-Daugherty stood out for the beauty of his voice, its depth and the emotional quality he brought to the music; also conductor Eric Banks, who sang the tenor solos and sounded comfortably familiar with the style.

The fine, well-trained choir singing unusual, absorbing music, however, did lack any sense of devotional fervor, essential to such a work to bring it alive. It seemed that the choir was still needing to attend first and foremost to notes, Finnish words and dynamics, and not yet ready to give it that extra dimension. Only Thayer-Daugherty put this across.

The program, apart from the notes that required a magnifying glass to read with ease, laudably gave all the words of "Vigilia" in Finnish, and under each line its translation into English, an excellent way of making it possible to understand and keep one's place.

Posted by acapnews at March 8, 2006 12:06 AM