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Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935): A Portrait
CD 1

1. Für Alina
Alexei Lubimov, piano
2. Symphony No. 1: Second movement
Bamberg SO/Neemi Järvi
3. Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten
Strings of Hungarian State Opera Orchestra/Antal Eisrich
4. Passio: Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi secundum Joannem
Tonus Peregrinus/Antony Pitts
5. Berliner Messe: Kyrie
Elora Festival Singers and Orchestra/Noel Edison
6. Fratres for cello and piano
Tibor Párkányi, cello /Sándor Falvai, piano
7. Magnificat
Elora Festival Soingerws and Orchestra/ Noel Edison
8. Summa for strings
Strings of Hungarian State Opera orchestra/Tamás Benedek
9. Passio: Unde es tu? Jesu autem responsum non dedit ei
Tonus Peregrinus/Antony Pitts
10. Berliner Messe: Credo
Elora Festival Singers and Orchestra/Noel Edison
11. The Beatitudes
Elora Festival Singers and Orchestra/Jurgen Petrenko,organ/Noel Edison
12 – 18 Annum per annum for organ
Kevin Bowyer, organ
CD 2

1. Fratres for strings and percussion
Antal Eisrich & Miklós Kovács, percussion/Strings of Hungarian State Opera Orchestra/Tamás Benedek
2 – 4. Collage über B-A-C-H
Ulster Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
5 – 7. Pro et contra for cello and orchestra
Frans Helmerson, cello/Bamberg SO/Neemi Järvi
8. Symphony No. 3: Third movement
Ulster Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
9. Cantate Domino canticum novum (Psalm 95)
Elora Festival singers and Orchestra/Jurgen Petrenko, organ/Noel Edison
10. Spiegel im Spiegel
Daniel Hope, violin, Simon Mulligan, piano
11- 13. Triodion
The Choir of Lancing College/Peter Davis, organ/Neil Cox
14. Tabula rasa:Ludus
Leslie Hatfield & Rebecca Hirsch, violins/Ulster Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa
15. Passio: Et ex illa hora accepit eam discipulus in sua
Tonus Peregrinus/Antony Pitts
Including 78 page booklet by Nick Kimberley
No recording dates and venues given
NAXOS 8.558182-83 [78:29 + 75:59]

Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935): Spiegel im Spiegel
1. Fratres for violin and piano
Vadim Gluzman, violin, Angela Yoffe, piano
2. Dopo la vittoria (Piccola cantata)
3. Bogoròditse Djévo
4. I am the True Vine
Swedish Radio Choir/Tõnu Kaljuste
5. Annum per annum
Hans-Ola Ericsson, organ
6. Spiegel im Spiegel
Vadim Gluzman, violin, Angela Yoffe, piano
7. Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinuschka
8. Für Alina
Alexei Lubimov, piano
9 – 11. Quentettino, Op. 13
Philharmonisches Bläserquintett Berlin
12 – 14. Concerto piccolo über B-A-C-H for trumpet, strings, harpsichord and piano
Håkan Hardenberger, trumpet, Gothenburg SO/Neeme Järvi
15. Fratres for string quartet
Tallinn Quartet
16. Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
Recorded 1988 – 2002 at different venues
BIS-CD-1434 [77:23]

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On September 11th 2005 Arvo Pärt will celebrate his 70th birthday. These compilation sets are a worthy tribute to him. Since they complement each other I have chosen to review them together.

It is sensational that a modern composer becomes so popular and so best-selling. It is unique that a composer still alive gets multiple recordings of his works to the degree that Pärt has experienced. Of course it is the accessibility of his output from his "tintinnabulation" period, starting in 1976 with his seminal piano piece Für Alina, which is represented on both these compilations. From the mid-1980s Pärt became a cult-composer, a position he had to share with Gorecki, when his Symphony No 3 reached the bestseller-lists in the 1990s, but while Gorecki’s nimbus has faded, Pärt’s shines with undiminished lustre. What happened with both these composers was that some ivory-tower inhabitants started to think: music that becomes so popular must suffer from serious weaknesses. It is too simple and consequently it can’t be good. Luckily these views didn’t meet with sympathy from the general public – a reason, no doubt, why these discs have been regarded as financially safe to release. At the same time both Naxos and BIS have chosen to cover also the "difficult" Pärt, the atonal Pärt of the 1960s. For someone familiar with only the late Pärt, the movement from his Symphony No 1 with its aggressive, almost "Rite of Spring" like forcefulness, will come as a shock. I was lucky enough to visit the summer festival Musik vid Siljan (Music around Lake Siljan) in central Sweden some fifteen years ago, when Pärt was the featured Composer of the Year. A great part of his output was presented, even his early symphonic music, and Pärt specialists like The Hilliard Ensemble, organists Hans-Ola Ericsson and Christopher Bowers-Broadbent and of course Pärt himself were present. Since then I have been an avid collector of his music, both on disc and live. So the present discs were fitting reminders of the glories that are hidden on my shelves and have suffered some neglect the last few years,

The choice of music is good in both cases but is of course limited to what the companies have in their vaults. There is some overlapping of repertoire and in one case, the aforementioned Für Alina, it is also the same recording, since Naxos for once have licensed material from other companies to give a fuller picture of the composer. The other pieces – Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, Annum per annum and Spiegel im Spiegel – invite interesting comparisons. Moreover the well-known Fratres, which today exists in a dozen different versions, can be heard, besides the violin and piano version also for string quartet (both on the BIS disc) and on the Naxos set for cello and piano and for string orchestra and percussion. Collage über B-A-C-H is played in its original version for orchestra on Naxos, while BIS offers it in a later revision, Concerto piccolo über B-A-C-H for trumpet, strings, harpsichord and piano, with Håkan Hardenberger a superb trumpet soloist.

The quality of the playing and the singing is high throughout and there is very little criticism concerning the technical side. I have to make a reservation to the balance between the instruments in the Naxos version of Spiegel im Spiegel, originally a Nimbus recording, where the violin is so backwardly recorded that you sometimes hardly notice its existence. The BIS version is just about right. Comparing the two master organists, Hans-Ola Ericsson on the magnificent "meaty" instrument of Luleå Cathedral, and Kevin Bowyer on an undefined and "slimmer" organ (also a Nimbus recording) is fascinating.

What also is so good with both these compilations is that there are several complete works, not just isolated movements, and when there are such movements they wet the appetite for the complete works.

Someone who is curious about Pärt and wants a cross-section of his music, well performed and documented could well start here, preferably buying both the Naxos and the BIS. If a choice has to be made I think the Naxos is the best buy: one gets 2˝ hours of music at budget price and a very well-written book about Pärt and about his works by Nick Kimberley. Naxos also throws its net wider and so covers more aspects of Pärt’s music. The BIS booklet has a more succinct but also well-written text by Per F Broman. Having listened to these samples, the interested listener can investigate what is in the market, not only from these two companies. The largest catalogue of Pärt recordings is still, I think, to be found on ECM, with many first recordings with Bowers-Broadbent, the Hilliards, Gidon Kremer and others. Not the least of these are several fine choral records conducted by Tönu Kaljuste, who is represented on the BIS disc with the Swedish Radio Choir but on ECM conducts the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir.

The weakness with the Naxos set is the order of the music. Nick Kimberley presents Pärt’s musical – and personal – development chronologically with well visible cues to the music on the discs. The downside is that since the music is presented in random order it involves a lot of skipping back and forth, changing discs every so often, if you want to follow his survey. For just listening to the discs as a couple of mixed concerts, it doesn’t matter and probably the chosen order works better as programme building than as a strictly chronological one. However this is supposed to be an educational issue and pedagogical aspects also have to be considered.

But this criticism only marginally detracts from the overall positive impression of these disc.

What counts is the music of Pärt and it is worth delving deeply into.

Göran Forsling

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