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Music Reviews : Helsinki University Chorus at Occidental

January 19, 1988|TERRY McQUILKIN

To the music lover with a sense of adventure, few things could be as enjoyable as Saturday evening's program at Thorne Hall, Occidental College, given by the Helsinki University Chorus.

Organized in 1883, the all-male choir has actively championed the music of Finnish composers. The program began appropriately with a few Sibelius works. The choir's homogenous sound, balanced over its three-octave range, aptly suited the homophony of these pieces.

Nearly every Finn is bilingual, and the choristers proved quite adept in pronouncing Latin, French, German, English and Swedish. They proved conversant in various musical styles, too, rendering Sweelinck's counterpoint clearly, Poulenc's nuances delicately and the primitivist syncopations of Orff's "Sunt lacrimae rerum" with energetic fervor.

Under Matti Hyokki's strong leadership, the 65 men sang with complete rhythmic and interpretive unanimity. All but two of their selections were performed a cappella; yet intonation proved flawless. Indeed, these Finns are a virtuoso group.

And the second half of the program, devoted to modern Finnish and Scandinavian works, offered some formidable challenges. Erik Bergman's dramatic "Loitsuja", atonal and devilishly difficult, emerged a strong and certain statement, as did Daniel Bortz's evocative "Gryningsvind," built of overlapping melodic fragments and tone clusters.

The Helsinkians have a sense of humor, too. The brilliantly executed laughs, whistles and burps of Einojuhani Rautavaara's "A Serenade to Beer" and the vast array of unconventional vocal sounds and choreography of Folke Rabe's "Rondes" elicited hearty laughter.

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