with others have made me realise that I wasn’t alone in being
slow to appreciate either the depth or the range of Pärt’s
work. Early exposure to his more ‘minimalist’ works, for
which I had only a relatively limited appetite, led me to
a rather lazy lack of attention to his work of the last fifteen
years, in which much has changed. I am delighted to welcome
this well sung and well recorded anthology of works for unaccompanied
choir, all written between 1990 and 2001. It confirms just
how fine Pärt’s work of this period is, and perhaps it will – especially
at the Naxos price – attract new listeners to Pärt’s music.
Triodion was commissioned by Lancing College in Sussex in celebration of its
150th year – Benjamin Britten having written St.
Nicholas for the 100th year of the school.
Pärt sets three prayers from the Orthodox Prayer book, the
last of them a plea for St. Nicholas’s intercession: “O Holy
Saint Nicholas, Pray unto God for us” (the full name of Lancing
being the ‘College of St. Mary and St. Nicholas). Triodion is
one of the fruits of Pärt’s appropriation of the musical
language of early Renaissance choral music, beautifully evocative
of the moods of his text and, while harmonically quite spare,
far from merely minimalist.
on the disc, The Woman with the Alabaster Box – setting
the famous story from Chapter 26 of St. Matthew’s Gospel – has
a richness of texture and vivacity of tone which will come
as a surprise to those who know only Pärt’s earlier work.
To listen to the setting of the Nunc dimittis alongside Ode
VII from the substantial composition Kanon Pokajanen is
to realise just how various Pärt’s music has become in recent
years. The Nunc dimittis is radiant and luminous,
the transition to the major at “lumen ad revelationem” a
moment of considerable beauty; Ode VII, on the other
hand, is altogether darker and penitential, shot through
with a deeply troubled sense of human sinfulness.
la vittoria was commissioned by the City of Milan, to honour the 1600th anniversary
of the birth of St. Ambrose, a figure central to the early
history of the church in that city. There is rather more
word-painting here than one expects from Pärt, a more precise
musical responsiveness to verbal detail than is generally
characteristic of his music. In other respects the work
is quintessential Pärt, slowly shifting harmonic rhythmic
patterns used to beautiful effect. The disc closes with Bogoróditse
Djévo, more forcefully emotional than is sometimes
the case with Pärt, more vigorous and energetic too.
a fascinating picture of the later developments in Pärt’s
choral writing – and he is surely one of or age’s great masters
in the composition of music for unaccompanied choir – illustrative
of his increased range, and of the continuing precision of
his work. There are other recordings of some of these pieces – such
as those by Polyphony on Hyperion (CDA 67375); but the Elora
Festival Singers stand up to such comparisons very well,
and confirm the excellent impression made by the earlier
Naxos recording of the Berliner Messe and other pieces (Naxos
8.557299 & 6.110052 - see review).
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