For its widely cherished annual Christmas concert program last weekend, the accomplished a cappella group Quire of Voyces offered a twofer gift to fans of the great “mystical minimalist” composer Arvo Pärt amid the Old World ambience of the vintage St. Anthony’s Chapel. Estonian-born Pärt, who ranks among the world’s most beloved living composers, also served double duty for the program itself: the contemplative works “The Deer’s Cry” and “Morning Star” affirmed him as a celebrated representative of “Baltic” music both on this Baltic-centric program (previewing the group’s upcoming summer tour of Finland, Estonia, and beyond) and in the more universal musical arena.
Led by intrepid director Nathan Kreitzer for more than 25 years, Quire of Voyces continues to dazzle and soothe. Non-Baltic material was in the house too — from the Minnesotan René Clausen to Brit composer Will Todd, the German Josef Rheinberger, and Santa Barbara’s own Stephen Dombek, who unveiled a jubilant yet meditative new work, “Hodie.” Franz Gruber’s traditional “Silent Night” closed the night.
Still, the heart of the show headed due north, to the world of Norwegian composers Kim André Arnesen and the late Egil Hovland, Latvian Andrejs Jansons, and Russian Alexandre Grechaninoff. Best of all, youngish Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds (b. 1977) virtually stole the show. His “O Salutaris Hostia” featured twining sopranos and recalled Delibes’s Lakmé, while his stunning “Stars,” replete with ethereal drone tones from rubbed, pitched wineglasses and close, roving harmonies, conjured an engrossing atmosphere, at once cerebral and celestial.
Saturday’s concert, one of the more intriguing Christmas programs of recent years, had the glowing, transcendent effect we’ve come to expect of this group. It’s something rooted in the intelligence and warmth of the program, the tautness and majesty of the choral ensemble, and the inspirational setting. The Voyces sang, and soared, once again.