Arvo PÄRT (b.1930)
The Very Best of Arvo Pärt Summa (1977) for choir [4:56] Seven Magnificat Antiphons (1988, rev. 1991) [12:50] Fratres (1980 version) for violin and piano [11:21] Festina lente for string orchestra and harp [6:70] Spiegel im Spiegel for violin and piano [8:16] Magnificat (1989) [6:22] The Beatitudes (1990, rev. 1991) [5:56] Summa for string orchestra [4:53] Fratres for string orchestra and percussion [9:23] Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten for string orchestra
and bell [6:49] Tabula rasa for two violins, string orchestra and prepared
piano [28:46] De profundis (1980), for chorus, organ and percussion [5:34]
Cantate Domino [2:44] Beatus Petronius [5:90] Solfeggio [4:40] Missa syllabica [16:08]
Vasari Singers/Jeremy Backhouse; Tasmin Little/Martin Roscoe; Robert
Aldwinckle, Bournemouth Sinfonietta/Richard Studt; Choir of King's
College, Cambridge/Stephen Cleobury; Estonian National Symphony
Orchestra/Paavo Järvi; Chilingirian Quartet; Kaia Urb, Vilve Hepner,
Evelin Saul, Mati Turi, Tiit Kogerman, Aarne Talvik, , Christopher
Bowers-Broadbent, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir/Tönu Kaljuste
rec. various locations, 1977-2002. DDD
EMI CLASSICS 6294432 [77:15 + 78:51]
I did not have high hopes of a set called
"The Very Best of Arvo Part". In fact it far exceeded
expectations. It was released to celebrate the 75th birthday of
the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt in September 2010.
In 1980 Pärt emigrated to Austria but returned to Estonia to live
in Tallinn in the early 2000s. His pre-Austria works were woven
from serialism but from the 1970s onwards his music adopted the
so-called "Tintinnabuli Style" characterised by tonality,
medieval monastic character, minimalist use of material, plainchant,
bell-sounds, iterative cells and a deep reverence. EMI tell us
that Pärt and Gorecki are the best-selling living composers of
the last twenty years.
As a collection I do not see this being bettered at any price.
It offers access to the accessible mystic Pärt. There's nothing
here of the tougher segment of his catalogue. For that you can
turn, for example, to the Bis CD of his three symphonies. His
Fourth Symphony premiered in San Francisco, and just released
on ECM, is firmly in the mysticism and minimalism camp.
Pärt stands as a high priest of a once-new simplicity - achieving
enlightenment through chant-based cells and mantra-like repetition.
You can hear this in Summa and the Magnificat Anthems
in choral dress (Vasari Singers). It’s also in the warmer
"Three Choirs" glow of Magnificat and Beatitudes
as sung in English by King's College, Cambridge. These two pieces
do in fact have a greater sense of the longer narrative line.
The set also exemplifies the composer's openness to adapting a
piece written in one instrumental format into another. Thus Summa
and Fratres appear in three versions - an almost Grainger-like
profusion of variants. The music in whatever form has a meditative
and reverent mien - never a chuckle; no satire, simple sincerity
often of a Tallis-like concentration as in Fratres. This
is even more evident in the version for full strings on CD 1 (Paavo
Järvi). In fact those who look for more of the tense spirituality
of the RVW Tallis Fantasia must hear this work in this
performance. They will almost certainly be just as captivated
by the superb Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977)
with its slow shift-sliding violins and over-arching tolling bell.
Summa in its version for full string orchestra benefits
from plush acoustic and generous forces. I should add that the
Chilingirian also make Summa and Fratres their own,
inhabiting the music to its full extent.
The set is rounded out with a sequence in which we hear organist
Christopher Bowers-Broadbent (organ) with the Estonian Philharmonic
Chamber Choir conducted by Tonu Kaljuste. Kaljuste has also been
a champion of the more robust rustic choral music of Veljo Tormis
who taught Part. There's a touch of Tormis in the uncharacteristically
vigorous Cantate Domino - a rare stylistic link with Rutter.
In Beatus Petronius those honey-razored vocal stabs recall
Allegri's Miserere. The Missa Syllabica closes the
disc with a sequence of the barest simplicity. Yet in its second
movement the greatest beauty is achieved. The fourth movement
amounts to a choral fanfare - one of great majesty.
These works are all done with great dedication, head bowed as
it were. Listen to the Festina Lente as an example. Spiegel
im Spiegel is, to be crass, Part's "greatest hit"
and here it is most attentively and movingly performed by Tasmin
Little and Martin Roscoe. Tabula Rasa is not quite as mysteriously
done as it might have been but interesting to hear the trilling
echoes of Bach and Schnittke among the meditative repetitive cells.
I did not have high hopes of a set called "The Very Best
of Arvo Part". In fact it does very well indeed. We are presented
with complete works and with those that command a worldwide following.
The far better than merely useful note by Andrew Stewart sets
the scene strongly. A pleasure that his essay does not neglect
the very works such as Nekrolog that do not make it into
anthologies such as this.
This set will certainly please anyone who admires Gorecki, Tavener
or Macmillan. More directly still it will gratify those adventurers
who, enthralled by RVW's Tallis or Barber's Adagio,
would like to spread their wings without danger of anything tremendously
harsh on the ear.
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