21 March 2016

Melos kamerinis moteru choras: Debut and concert of new religious works

Last night in a whimsically chilly church. Melos kamerinis moteru choras gave their official Lithuanian debut, performing works of living composers, focusing mostly on text in relation to Palm Sunday. The twelve piece choir, accompanied by solo instruments in certain pieces gave, in short, an extremely strong first step into the wild.

The concert started with a work by the Lithuanian composer Vytautas Miskinis. The work Praeludium for voices and piano rolled along gently, with subtle swaying of harmonic development which underpinned a rich chorale. The circling motifs were extremely confident and the choir gave a wonderfully well blended sound throughout. The confidence in the false relations was strong, always giving the impression the choir were in supreme control.

The first of many premieres in the concert was the young Matas Drukteinis. His setting of the sanctus was quite commanding and striking, but also very modest. The nuanced repetitions of sanctus made the work sound almost ritualistic. These punchy gestures were set against by very still rich chords in the whole choir. The harmonic language was really moving but I felt the counterpoint fell apart in the still moments. The use of cello was very subtle and gave the whole piece a very strong base to bounce off from. The work in general was good, but I am curious to hear something more extreme from Matas, I have the impression modest music is not his own cup of tea and just wants to be let loose. I recommend you check out more of his work on Soundcloud.

The next work was by Monika Sokaite, for those who have read previous posts, know I wasn't sold on her recent piece for voice and piano. This being said I didn't let that previous thought cloud my listening of this new work by her. Lavabo Me (from Psalm 25) was described in her programme notes as a polyphonic work using techniques associated with the prolation canon. I always smile a bit when composers resort to older forms like prolation canon or organum, because there is so much joy and wonder in them. The piece started with an almost processional line from the sopranos flowing around beautifully and supported by a slow moving harmonic base. The harmony and voicing was strong and is was a good piece demonstrating choral music is a personal forte. I found after a while the drifting melodic line got a bit lost and so sense of direction disappeared and ultimately felt lackluster. A think with a bit more study of Ockeghem and Mazulis she has the potential of producing some really nice music inspired by ancient forms and ideas. I said this last time I reviewed her, I'll say it again; listen to her works here on Soundcloud.

After some shuffling from the choir came the music of the Polish composer Monika Szpyrka. adHuc was a piece that focused on very minute details and raw elements of the voice. Starting with growing rustlings and stutters which are set against varied breathing. The contrast and orchestration of the gestures was contrapuntally and creatively very strong. The evolution of timbre was handled in an extremely classy nature, giving the sensation the Monika is her element and her moment. The piece, especially compared to the predeceasing work was definitely like going from chalk to cheese. adHuc was always moving, always evolving and gripping the listener. It was by far one of the strongest works of the night and the most sophisticated works for unaccompanied choir I have heard in a while. I am definitely hunting to hear more from this gem! When you listen to her music here on Soundcloud, I hope you will agree with me. 

After this work came Mantvydas Pranulis's In Finem for trumpet and choir. The solitary opening from the trumpet resounded in the church beautiful and definitely had a similarly spiritual sensation. The choir entered and the interaction with them and the trumpet (played by the composer) was often very strong and well nuanced. Harmonically it had a similar sensation to Holst which was an odd surprise to hear from a Lithuania, but still a pleasant one all the same. The work in general was very strong, but towards the end the trumpet gestures became more akin to the jazzy characters from Aristocats than one of the seven trumpets at the end of time. Have a listen to his work here.

Next came the Aberdeenshire based Yank Sarah Rimkus, a student of Paul Mealor and the descendant of a Lithuanian. Her piece O Vos Omnes was very modest and still. Focusing heavily on open fifths and other wide chords. The stillness is treated very well, at times I felt the sopranos were a bit underwhelming in this. The piece did feel heavily influenced by her tutor but thankfully the influence wasn't so dominating that it felt like her music was mere pastiche. I also found many similarities between the work and the middle sections of John Taverner's Ikon of Light where notes just hang in space resonating freely. A nice piece, I'll be intrigued to see how she develops. See her music here on Soundcloud.

The penultimate work came from the Welsh composer Nathan James Dearden. The piece O Crux Ave was set for double choir, with members stood opposite each other. The still modest opening hit me instantly, a calmly brilliant gesture which was the seed of growth in the piece. The counterpoint between each group and across groups was extremely well handled and always felt purposeful and necessary. The Qui passus es pro nobis... was strong and pulsing like a mantra that resonated beautifully in the church. The whole piece struck me to the core and instantly I can tell this one of Nathan's strongest pieces to date. The work was bold and modest, well crafted and elegant, and ultimately sincere. If he carries on like this Wales has a bright future with Nathan as a champion of his generation. Enjoy his works here on Soundcloud.

The finale was the perfect finale piece. Juta Pranulyte, the Glasgow based Lithuanian, presented one of the greatest pieces of the night. Christe Qui Lux for alto saxophone and choir was a beautiful meditation which at times had the same striking mesmerisation as Feldman's Rothko Chapel and Toivo Tulev's Songs. Notes hung in space and disappeared into the space like clouds forming and unforming or rain droplets falling into a river. The work organically and seamlessly grew from the saxophone, at one point it strayed dangerous close to Lux Aeterna by Ligeti, but managed to break away before it got cornered. As the work progressed, the sound grew and the church itself felt like it was resonating with the choir in one harmonious gesture. Christe Qui Lux is definitely the strongest piece I have heard from the composer, may the good work continue. Listen for yourself on Soundcloud.

Melos Choir, under the combined direction of Jolita Vaitkeviciene and Dalia Krapavickaite, achieved a strong and very promising debut. As a whole, for me the strength of the choir hung in the lowest altos who were a strong foundation for the choir to build upon. The middle voices were well blended and well toned, but at times I felt their dynamic was weaker than it should be; the most important music is often in the middle, not the top or bottom. The top sopranos on the whole were strong, but I felt at times that there were blockages stopping the higher registers just pinging round the church like a ray of light. The stamina of the choir needs to be addressed, but to be honest the temperature in the church will have had considerable effect on it all. The two conductors were strong and focused. Jolita Vaitkeviciene was by far the superior conductor in my mind, but that is mostly due to age and experience, the subtle controlled gestures were always elegant and necessary. Dalia Krapavickaite has a bright future a conductor, but I am curious to see how she would interpret a classic piece.

The choir have to be commended on such a strong debut, especially as the debut was filled with world premieres. With hard work, dedication, and the same element of daring who knows they could challenge Jauna Muzika for superiority. 

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