Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
It is not very often that I bemoan my hi-fi. It is not state of the art but, by and large, it is more than adequate and I always bought the best I could afford when I added a new component. However, listening to this gorgeous recording by the Estonian chamber choir Vox Clamantis ("The voice of one crying") I wish I had surround sound or at least better speakers. The music was recorded in the Church Of The Transfiguration in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, and acoustically it is exquisite. Vox Clamantis is a vocal ensemble that revolves around its leader Jaan-Eik Tulve. Since he established it in 1996 singers have come and gone but Tulve's vision of music has remained central. The current line-up is a blend of professionals and talented - very talented - amateurs with three voices to each part plus Mikk Dede, a counter-tenor and, most unusually, a counter-alto in Taniel Kirkal. Blend is the apposite word: like your favourite coffee we have the cool and clear high notes along with rounded, warm low notes and the singing taken as a whole is as good as anything I have heard this year, particularly when we remember that it is all a cappella. Any listener who enjoys excellence in choral music should investigate further. The content is an interesting contrast between ancient and modern. Jaan-Eik Tulve's first love is Gregorian Chant and here the programme alternates between anonymous medieval chants and responses each interspersed with a later complement, starting with Maurice Durufle's "Ubi caritas et amor" ("Where charity and love are"), taking a detour back to Guillaume de Machaut's "La Lai de Nostre Dame", before working its way through Francis Poulenc's "Quatre motets pour un temps de penitence" ("Four quartets for a time of penance") and concluding triumphantly with Olivier Messiaen's "O sacrum convivium" ("O sacred banquet"). If the repertoire sounds obscure (and, personally I can take Gregorian Chant or leave it alone) the singing is so outstanding that it will carry you over and beyond any doubts you may have as to whether this is worth hearing. Texts and translations are provided although my preference is to go with the flow and let the music lift my spirit.
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