Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Endymion / EXAUDI @ King’s Place, London

28 November 2015

Kings Place (Photo: Nick White)

The King’s Place Minimalism Unwrapped series continued on Saturday evening with a short concert of spiritual works by the ‘Holy Minimalist’ composer Arvo Pärt performed by four members of Endymion (Krysia Osostowicz and Lizzie Ball, violins; Sophie Renshaw, viola; Jane Salmon, ‘cello) and three members of the vocal ensemble EXAUDI (Juliet Fraser, soprano; Kim Porter, alto; Simon Wall, tenor). The concert opened with Fratres, arguably Pärt’s most performed work (in that he has made numerous arrangements of it for varying forces). The version performed was his original 1977 arrangement for string quartet. It is a challenging work at the opening, as the ‘cello and viola are required to play lightly on the strings, producing ethereal harmonics, and it took Endymion a little while to get this technique to work, but once the piece got going, they turned in a creditable performance.

The quartet was joined by Simon Wall for a highly accomplished performance of Ein Wallfahrtslied (Pilgrim’s Song) – a setting of Psalm 121. It is an atmospheric work that follows an insistent six-beat pattern until the very end, where the music becomes more contrapuntal. The interest, unusually, is in the string writing, as the tenor sings only three notes throughout (which Simon Wall accomplished with just the right neutral tone) – declaiming the text in a monotone above the typically Pärt tintinnabuli harmonies set up in the strings. More tintinnabuli followed in a performance by the quartet of Summa, another of the works emerging after Pärt’s introspective compositional silence in the mid 1970s – written originally for voices in 1977 and arranged for string quartet in 1991. This received a much more certain account than Fratres and ensured that the peculiar atmospheric mixture of richness and asceticism that Pärt’s music generates was not lost.

The final piece of the evening, the 1985 Stabat Mater was a tour de force with all the performers combining to create a very special sound world. It is scored for six performers – a string trio, soprano, alto and tenor – and is based around patterns of three. Each of the 20 verses of the Stabat Mater contains three lines, and Pärt sets the performers in two mirrored groups – three singers and three instruments. Each of the verses explores a different combination of performers, sometimes with all the forces for that verse performing from the outset, and at other times voices or instruments just join for the last line; there are also occasional instrumental interludes between verses. The final iteration, where each voice in turn sings an extended Amen, accompanied by the strings, provided the perfect close to a meditative hour of music.

buy EXAUDI MP3s or CDs
Spotify EXAUDI on Spotify

More on EXAUDI
Endymion / EXAUDI @ King’s Place, London