This release from
Manchester Classical Gallery is a collection of works by Arvo
Pärt, dating from the early 1960s to mid 1970s. This was a
time when Pärt experimented a great deal in form, structure
and tonality, before he settled into the style with which
we are now familiar, of tintinabulus and a mediaeval/renaissance
polyphony, spirituality and beauty. Although one hears premature
hints of these in the four works (particularly Tabula Rasa),
one also senses up a great deal of influence of composers
such as Schoenberg.
The disc opens
with his First Symphony. Written in 1964, it includes
elements of 12-tone serialism and has a polyphonic structure.
The Congress Orchestra, conducted by Vladimir Norits, give
an exciting and dramatic performance, although the work itself
will come as quite a shock to those used to his later, religious
and more orthodox style. It is gritty stuff, discordant, hard
on the ear, quite relentless, and almost disjointed. One feels
that Pärt had not found his voice at this stage.
on the Theme B-A-C-H has a minimalist first movement,
while the second movement presents a gorgeous saraband from
Bach, which is then interspersed with scrunched-up, from-your-very-worst
nightmares Bach distortions. The finale, also discordant,
movement is based on the B-A-C-H motif.
The Cello Concerto
Pro et contra was dedicated to Rostropovich, and
is described as a “kaleidoscope of contrasts”. It contains
some brilliant playing from the Congress Orchestra, especially
the percussion, and from soloist Vadim Messerman.
– a concerto for two violins, prepared piano and string
orchestra – came as a tremendous relief to me – balm after
the rather ear-shattered, mind-numbing previous works. It
is a well-paced rendition – the Congress Orchestra, this time
under the baton of Paolo Gatto, are not afraid to keep the
pauses long. The second movement, Silentium, has a
wonderful sense of spaciousness, and the work is given a radiant
All these works
are extremely well-played, but to those who are new to Pärt
or just familiar with his later music I should issue a warning
– these are a far cry from those later luminescent, spiritual
works of art!