A Baltic Journey

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Keswick Hall Choir at Norwich Cathedral


John Aplin, admirably supported by his intrepid Keswick Hall Choir, set out on a musical voyage to the Baltic States. There he found treasures, no less in today's techniques than in more traditional works. The impression was of vibrant cultural life reflecting powerful spiritual forces.

The lights were dimmed at the start to add drama to Gorecki's setting of a hymn to the Virgin. “Maria! Maria!” the singers intoned again and again, quietly but urgently, and the repetition of the name with small musical variations conveyed a sense of devotion.

Buxtehude's Short Mass took us back in time to the 17th century, and its style was not modern even then. The choir tackled the polyphony with practised ease, though opportunities for sustained hushed singing were not taken.

Climbing high to add extra thrills, Rebecca Mundy was the soprano soloist in five brief triumphant psalms set by the Finnish composer Joonas Kokkonen. The baritone Graham Barton was no less impressive. Against the background of a wordless chorus, he declaimed with great aplomb the Russian text of a poem by Pushkin in Sviridov's evocative setting.

After Tchaikovsky's “Cherubic Hymn”, in the rapt manner associated with Orthodox devotion, came Paert's elegant, delicately crafted Magnificat. Its controlled serenity gave just the right contrast for the Advent Antiphon by the Latvian composer Rihards Dubra.

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After the opening chant, the Choir discovered even greater depths of feeling. Mike Hall's soprano saxophone added unusual timbre, and David Dunnett at the organ had a resonant last word.

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