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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

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]

Experience Classicsonline
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.

Rob Barnett
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