Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Arvo Pärt

Tabula Rasa
Collage über Bach
Symphony no. 3

Leslie Hatfield, Rebecca Hirsch (violins)
Ulster Orchestra
Takuo Yuasa
Naxos 8.554591 (78 minutes)

The Estonian composer Arvo Pärt is one of the most interesting figures on the contemporary music scene. Now in his mid-60s, he has re-invented himself several times, from the stylistic point of view, and in that sense this disc is an excellent introduction to his compelling and highly approachable art.

Pärt is one of that large band of composers to have paid homage to Bach, and this particular piece, the Collage über Bach, is an example of the highly intellectual, serialist style which he pursued in the early 1960s. But the music is not wanting in personality, especially when it is sympathetically played and directed as it is here, with an ambient recording too.

However, the double violin concerto known as Tabula Rasa (1977) makes a more direct impression. Its first movement reflects particularly that quasi-minimalist approach which has endeared Pärt to a new generation of listeners, and rhythmically the music is extraordinarily vital. But equally important is the resonance of the richly scored harmonies, which Hirsch, Hatfield, Yuasa and the excellent Ulster Orchestra deliver to compelling effect. Thanks to Naxos's well judged recorded balances, and this is without doubt one of the best discs the company has produced, the music is conveyed with great conviction. So too the slow, introspective second movement, whose unequivocal title, Silentium, gives indication of its intentions of hushed concentration.

The Symphony no. 3 (1971) occupies middle ground between the other pieces recorded here. But it is a compelling work on its own account. Again the recording does Pärt justice, proving that his music has the strength of sounding well on its own terms. But the musical argument is strong and individual too, for this is surely one of the composer's best pieces, captured here in a performance of real conviction.

Terry Barfoot

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