Arvo PÄRT (b.
1935) Triodion (1998) [13.36] Tribute to Caesar (1997) [5.33] Nunc Dimittis (2001) [6.16] Ode VII (1994) [7.37] from Kanon Pokajanen I Am the True Vine (1994) [6.50] The Woman with the Alabaster Box (1997) [5.26] Dopo la vittoria (1996/1998) [10.39] Bogorodiste Djevo (1990) [1.28]
Elora Festival Singers/Noel
rec. St. John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada, 19–21
May 2006 NAXOS 8.570239 [57.26]
The Elora Festival Singers have already recorded Arvo
Messe and his Magnificat for
Naxos (see review). Now they have recorded a further disc,
unaccompanied choral music. In a way, this is an apt follow-up
to the earlier one as it covers the choral music
that Pärt wrote after the 1989 Magnificat up
to his 2001 Nunc Dimittis. On this disc
Pärt seems to be following a path in which
his music develops an added richness. Though this is less
of a strict development and more of a series of explorations,
all the while Pärt sticks to his basic style; a style that
ensures that every piece here is recognisable and moving.
The choir opens its recital with his 1998 Triodion, setting three odes from the Orthodox Prayer Book.
The piece was commissioned by Lancing College to mark the
150th anniversary of the College’s
founding; Benjamin Britten had written his cantata St. Nicholas for
the College’s 100th anniversary.
St. Nicholas is the College’s
patron Saint and Pärt refers to him in the final ode.
Triodion has already appeared on disc at least
twice before, in recordings by the choir of Lancing College
and by Polyphony. Polyphony’s
recording was highly commended in the Gramophone in 2003.
But the Elora Festival Singers, a Canadian professional group,
are well up to the challenge. Their tone is warm and flexible,
disguising the difficulties of Pärt’s vocal writing and allowing
the music to speak naturally. I found their performance of
this piece profoundly affecting. You could imagine brighter,
more hard-edged performances but the choir give this austere
piece a feeling of humanity and warmth.
The other pieces have all appeared before in highly
commended recordings. Besides Polyphony, Theatre of Voices
and the Estonian Chamber choir have also made overlapping
discs. This is no matter, as Pärt’s music is such that hearing
different performances of the same work is illuminating.
And, of course, the Naxos pricing means that we can experiment
a little and duplicate without causing undue budgetary problems.
Tribute to Caesar is a similarly apposite setting of the verse from the
Gospel of St. Mark. This was written to commission, as were
most of the pieces on this disc. Tribute and The Woman with the Alabaster Box were both commissioned to mark the 350th anniversary of the diocese of Karlstad in Sweden. The Nunc
Dimittis was a commission from St. Mary’s Cathedral
in Edinburgh and I
am the True Vine was
written to commemorate the 900th anniversary
of the founding of Norwich Cathedral. The commissioners of
all these pieces must be more than content;
they helped give us some of Pärt’s most sophisticated and
affecting music. All of it is well performed by Noel Edison
and his singers. Inevitably there are odd moments when you
might think things could have been done a little differently,
but all the pieces are performed to the same high standard.
The short Bogorodiste Djevo was
written for the 1992 Service of Nine Lessons and Carols at
Kings College, Cambridge. The CD booklet describes it as highly charged. I
am afraid that I found it less so in this performance.
Dopo la Vittoria sets an Italian text, translated from the Russian,
and was commissioned to commemorate the 1600th anniversary
of the death of St. Ambrose. Here I found the choir’s performance
rather too cool in its perfection, I wanted more passion
in the vocal lines. Somehow the performance fails to match
the vibrancy of the Italian text and Pärt’s response to it.
The earliest piece is Ode VII from Kanon Pokajanen. The complete Kanon Pokajanen is
one of Pärt’s longest works. Though it receives
a loving performance here, I would have liked to hear more
of the full work.
This is a finely crafted disc with some superb choral
singing. Pärt’s music is never easy and often performance
is made more difficult by the need for the finished result
to sound natural and effortless. Here it does. The singing
of the Elora Festival Singers is the art which conceals art.
When listening to complete recitals of Pärt’s choral
music, I develop a number of unworthy thoughts; that all
his music sounds the same and that he is attempting to set
the text of the entire Bible and the Russian Orthodox Canon.
Performances like this persuade me otherwise … just!
Inevitably everyone will have preferences and favourites
and recitals by other groups might give Pärt’s music in a
different sound-world which is more to your taste. But this
disc makes it easy to explore Pärt’s unaccompanied vocal
music at a very attractive price.
see also review by Glyn
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