Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir

MICHAEL DRAKE orwich Cathedral (Norfolk and Norwich Festival)


Norwich Cathedral (Norfolk and Norwich Festival)

What a cracking start to this year's crowded festival? There was a time when the mention of Estonia would not have brought forth much excitement but last evening the opening concert was one of joyous excitement as this now world famous group of 26 singers thrilled a packed audience with their echoing sounds.

Conducted by Paul Hillier (co-founder of the Hilliard Ensemble), the religiously inclined programme was the vehicle for them to exhibit a standard of musicianship and vocal control to be wondered at, starting with a wonderfully spiritual “Our father” by the Russian 20th century composer Nikolai Kedrov.

In immediate contrast, the legato of two Slavonic psalms by Arvo Part - full of ringing hallelujahs - followed by an exultant reading of his “Rejoice O Virgin” and Da Pacem Domine of poised serenity as they continued to move seamlessly from one item to another.

And then in a dramatic mood change, “Three Psalms of David” by the Estonian composer Cyrillus Kreek in cultured folk-song style.

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There was a Rachmaninov “taster” in the well-known “Legend” and the second half was devoted to a number of sections of the “All night vigil”. This is first and foremost just beautiful choral music and the choir gave it all a thrilling performance of finely balanced clarity (and no little power when needed), with of course, the rock-solid bass foundation to which we looked forward.

This was the first visit to Norwich of the EPCC and, as festival director Jonathan Holloway said, “when they are on offer the only answer is 'yes'.” And after such an inspiring and sentimental beginning to the festival's 16 days, ask them back please.