Schnittke: Choir Concerto & Minnesang (CD Review - The Evening Standard, 2002)

Although technically the Holst Singers are amateurs, it would be wrong to think they were in any way second rate. Indeed, they sing Schnittke’s "Choir Concerto" better than did the professional BBC Singers in last year’s Schnittke festival at the Barbican.

The professionals are adept at getting by on fewer rehearsals. The Holst Singers work at a piece until they have perfected it, all for the price of room hire. The "Choir Concerto", one of the toughest pieces in the a cappella repertoire, sounds extremely well polished. The singers’ pitch holds, their Russian diction is plausible and the fortissimo they achieve rattles the window panes. The second basses have fabulous low notes. The Orthodox church would give much for such sepulchural tone.

Schnitte’s “Minnesang”, which requires 52 separate parts, pours from the speakers in impassioned waves, with soloists surfing the harmony and everyone aiming towards the strange chance-music climax. The short work “Voices of Nature” is a wordless incantation for womens’ voices accompanied by a magical vibraphone which resounds like a suburban door-chime through the choral weft. Bing-bong. Doors are opening for the Holst Singers.

Rick Jones

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