Sunday 2 April 2017

Svyati and beyond: Kian Soltani, Hugo Ticciati & VOCE8 in Vasks, Tavener and more

Kian Soltani
Kian Soltani
Josquin, Mouton, Bach, Vasks, Levine, Pärt, Tavener; Kian Soltani, Hugo Ticciati, VOCES8; Kings Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 31 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Some magical moments in this intriguing exploration of music for violin, cello and choir

Hugo Ticciati
Hugo Ticciati
The Cello Unwrapped season continues at Kings Place and on Friday 31 March 2017, the Austrian-Persian cellist Kian Soltani was joined by violinist Hugo Ticciati and vocal ensemble VOCES8 for a fascinating programme exploring the combination of choir and solo strings, including performances of Peteris Vasks' Plainscapes for violin, cello and choir, and John Taverner's Svyati for a cappella chorus and cello, alongside choral music by Josquin des Prez, Jean Mouton, Arvo Pärt, and Alexander Levine, instrumental music by JS Bach and a violin improvisation

We opened with a sequence which interleaved the Ave Maria by Josquin des Prez (1440/5-1521) and Nesciens Mater by Jean Mouton (1459-1522) from VOCES8 with JS Bach's Invention No. 1 in C BWV 846 and Invention No. 11 in G minor BWV 797 from Hugo Ticciati and Kian Soltani. The eight singers from VOCES8 stood in a circle to the rear of the stage, bringing great beauty of tone and impressive control to both motets, the lusciousness of individual vocal lines often contrasting with the austerity of the music. The two instrumentalists brought elegance and fine-grained tone to the Bach two-part inventions, often making great use of instrumental colour and bringing something rather modern out of the way the two lines interacted.

The first half concluded with Peteris Vasks' Plainscapes which was written in 2002 for Gidon Kremer. The vocal requirements of the choir meant that the eight singers of VOCES8 were expanded to 14. The choir is wordless throughout, starting humming before wordless singing and, at one point, imitating bird-song. The piece opened with the choir's humming as a backdrop to violin and cello interchanges, melodic fragments interspersed with more nebulous, aetherial moments. There was a lovely sense of unhurried time from the string soloists, and at times the interaction of the two made you understand why the Bach inventions had been chosen for earlier in the programme. The magical textures developed into violence and then suddenly stopped, for an amazing array of bird-song imitations from the choir. Fragmentary violin and cello interactions developed into violence again before the opening material returned, to descend into quiet.

It was a mesmerising work, and full of strikingly virtuosic moments though the string writing is far from showy, and both Ticciati and Soltani brought striking intensity to the piece, supported by the fine musicianship of the choir.

After the interval there was more Vasks, this time the 1978 solo cello work Gramata cellam (The Book). In this earlier work there was rather less Baltic-minimalism in Vasks' style, but it was striking nonetheless with a meditative high melody supported by a low drone, when the material dropped an octave the cellist quietly added his own voice to create striking new timbre.

VOCES8 (back to eight singers), then sang the first of The Prayers of St Augustine by Alexander Levine (born 1955) which the ensemble had commissioned for its first tour of Russia. A vigorous piece, with some neo-medievalism in the harmonies but very modern in spirit, then suddenly time was suspended with a lovely soprano solo floating over the top. We went straight into an improvisation from Hugo Ticciati, vibrant and vigorous, with varied textures and moments of contemplation. The vocal ensemble completed the sequence with an intimate account of Arvo Pärt's Nunc Dimittis the eight voices making the placement of notes sound effortless (which it certainly is not).. I have to confess that I really prefer more vocal weight from a larger group in this work, but VOCES8 created some really magical textures and I was very impressed with the two sopranos with their lovely fine-grained tone, never dominating the blend despite the high altitude of the parts.

The rubric at the front of the vocal score of John Tavener's Svyati asks for significant spacing between cellist and choir (when we last performed it with London Concord Singers we had cellist, Corinne Morris, at the opposite end of the nave). Such placement is difficult at Kings Place so Kian Soltani was stage centre with the choir (expanded back to 14, though one was conducting) in the balcony above. With its multiple vocal parts, at most SSSAATTTBBBB, including a low bass drone, the choral contribution from expanded VOCES8 was still very much one to a part and had their trademark attention to detail and fine vocal placement. The first big choral 'Svyati' was simply spine-tingling, not from choral weight but thanks to the beautiful placement of voices. Kian Soltani's keening solo cello had something rather oriental about it, played with a very fine sound quality, intense and expressive, and his final three artificial harmonics were simply stunning. The whole had a remarkably concentrated intensity about it.

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