Thursday 25 January 2018

Celebrating Estonian style - the stylishly distinctive Estonian Voices

Estonian Voices (Photo Sohvi Viik)
Estonian Voices (Photo Sohvi Viik)
Estonian Voices at the London A Cappella Festival; Kings Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 25 2018 Jazz, pop, and folk merge in the distinctive personality of this talented Estonian group

The London A Cappella Festival opened at Kings Place on Wednesday 24 January 2018 with something of a double celebration, as the performance from Estonian Voices was not only the group's UK debut but marked one of the UK celebrations for the centenary of Estonia's independence, Estonia 100.

Estonian Voices is a six person (Mirjam Dede, Maria Väli, Kadri Voorand, Mikk Dede, Rasmus Erismaa, Aare Külama) a cappella group whose performances mix jazz, folk and pop to create a very distinctive style. Singing is at the core of the Estonian character so it comes as no surprise to find a group like Estonian Voices creating jazz-inspired arrangements of traditional Estonian songs. Their opening set had a number of these, the distinctive tang of the Estonia traditional melodies giving a piquant flavour to the mix, as if Manhattan Transfer had started channelling Appalachian folk music (an unlikely, but potent mix).

There were quite a number of Estonians in the audience, including the Estonian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Tiina Intelmann, who spoke before the concert started, and all found the lyrics of the songs amusing but such was the communicability of the music that we didn't really need words.

We did not just get folk music, there was a medley of children's songs at the end of the second set and, rather amazingly, a children's song written by the young Arvo Pärt, about a little motor scooter! And whilst there were songs by other writers, such as Herbie Hancock and Horace Silver, the majority of the music was the group's own with many songs penned by its alto Kadri Voorand.

During the second set, I felt that we got a clear sense of the group's particular voice, with six distinct singing personalities and imaginative arrangements which combined doo-wop, jazz, close-harmony and vocal percussion with some spectacular scat singing. They create a very particular sound, the individuality of the arrangements is striking and much to be commended.

Each song was introduced in English by one of the singers, often including an element of what might be called pop psychology, presenting us with a world view rather different to the manufactured image of many such groups. Visually they were six individuals too, rather than a pre-packaged, shrink-wrapped line-up.

The second set finished with Arno Tamm's N'anga Nala during which the members of the group produced a remarkable array of animal noises including a spectacular monkey cry from tenor Mikk Dede. But this wasn't the end, and the group's encore was a lovely, intimate close-harmony number with minimal amplification, showing that they really can sing!

The group was formed in 2011, and most of the singers are former students at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. Their first album Ole Hea (Be Good) was released in 2014 and they are currently working on a second album to be released this summer.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • 1768: A Retropective - Chiara Skerath, Katy Bircher, Ian Page, The Mozartists at the Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • The Schuman's at Home - Julius Drake and Sophie Bevan at Temple Music - concert review
  • Eavesdropping on David Pountney rehearsing Verdi's La forza del destino at Welsh National Opera - feature article
  • Chants d'amour - Louise Alder and James Baillieu in Mozart, Bizet, Strauss, Mendelssohn, Faure, Liszt at the Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • The Phantom of the Opera - still going strong after 30 years - music theatre review
  • Hortus Musicus: Jerusalem - Early music and traditional melodies from this Estonian group - CD review
  • Handel's rarely done Lotario emerges as far less of a problem opera in this engaging performance from a young cast at Göttingen festival - CD review
  • A Fancy: 17th century English theatre music from a French ensemble - CD review
  • Jazz-inspired in Cologne: Junge Deutscher Philharmonie & Ingo Metzmacher in Harrison Birtwistle, Rolf Liebermann, Bernard Herrmann - concert review
  • 17th century French lute music: Tombeaux - a secular requiem from Richard MacKenzie - CD review
  • Mendelssohn in Cologne: Elijah from the Kölner Philharmonie - Concert review
  • All round achievement: Monteverdi's The Return of Ulysses at the Roundhouse - Opera review
  • Blood, sex, incest & subtlety: Salome at Covent Garden - Opera review
  • Home

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