Sacred Songs of Life and Love
That Stephen Layton’s recording of contemporary Baltic choral music, ‘Baltic Exchange’, with Polyphony (4/10) displays no overlap of repertoire with the South Dakota Chorale’s survey of choral music from the Baltic States, ‘Sacred Songs of Life & Love’, is testament to the variety of high-quality choral music emerging from that region over the course of the last generation. The choral tradition in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia is as rich and musically all-pervasive as it is in Britain and stretches back even further: millennia into a history that is concealed in its vocal music of all types.
The South Dakota Chorale started their recording career relatively recently but they are more than well suited to this full-bodied repertoire. They address the common lyricism of the music through a warmth of sound and sonority that is not only notably varied in tone and colour but which is all but perfect in blend, ensemble and intonation, and this does particular justice to the dramatically contrasting works of Martinaitis and Nystedt (both of whom died in 2014) and the substantial-but-ephemeral O salutaris hostia by Ēriks Ešenvalds, whose profile has rightly been raised considerably over recent years by single-composer discs of his work. They apply the same open-throated approach to the works by Arvo Pärt with which the disc is bookended, and it is only here that there is any sense of a lack of authenticity. That, though, is simply because this synthetic lyricism injects a sound that has a contemplative disposition that is the essence of those pieces with a more soupy quality; but there is in no way any sense of compromised validity as a result – just difference.