Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
Piano Music
Zwei Sonatinen für Klavier, Op. 1 (1958-59) [12:11]
Partita, Op. 2 (1959) [7:07]
Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinuschka (1977) [6:39]
Für Alina (1976) [3:25]
Für Anna Maria (2006) [1:12]
Lamentate: Homage to Anish Kapoor and his sculpture ‘Marsyas’ for piano and orchestra (2002) [35:29]
Ralph van Raat (piano)
Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic/JoAnn Falletta (Lamentate)
rec. Studio MCO 1, Muziekcentrum van de Omroep, Hilversum, The Netherlands, 2-6 February 2010 (Lamentate); Haitinkzaal, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 25 March 2010 (the rest). DDD
NAXOS 8.572525 [65:53] 

To my knowledge this is the first disc devoted solely to Arvo Pärt’s piano music, though less than half of it is for solo piano. The main work is the lengthy Lamentate for piano and orchestra that Pärt composed in 2002 as an homage to the British sculptor Anish Kapoor and his Marsyas, a huge sculpture that according to pianist Ralph van Raat, “struck Pärt as a confrontation with mortality” and which “became a lament for those who suffer from pain and hopelessness”. The remainder of the program consists of short works for solo piano covering the composer’s career from the early student Sonatinas and Partita to the simple “Für Anna Maria” of 2006 that receives its première recording. The most well known piece is Für Alina with which the composer introduced his famous “tintinnabuli” style to the world.
The two Sonatinas and the Partita are quite accomplished for student works and are attractive on their own, while they clearly show the influence of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and in the Sonatinas’ slow movements, Ravel. The Partita goes further in its use of atonality and at times is reminiscent of the piano music of Bartók and Ligeti. In some ways these are the most interesting and virtuosic of the pieces on the CD even if they barely hint at the style for which Pärt would become famous. The other solo works all typify the composer’s mystical minimalism with its bell-like sounds. They may sound simple and even be easy to play, but they have a quality of the ancient and modern that is uniquely Pärt’s. It is not just the sound the notes make, but the silences in between that are so much a part - no pun intended - of the music. The most recent of these pieces, “Für Anna Maria”, leaves the mysticism behind and is like a popular song for its entire 1:12 minute length, but in the style of Bach’s Anna Magdalena Notebook! I was impressed by Ralph van Raat’s pianism on an earlier disc of John Adams’s piano music and am equally taken with it here. He has a fine, light touch and judicious use of the sustaining pedal, so that the notes, which are meant to reverberate, do so without being overdone.
Now to the big piece on the disc, Lamentate. Having listened to it several times and compared it to 2005 recording on ECM with pianist Alexei Lubimov with the SWR Radio Symphony under Andrey Boreyko, I haven’t made up my mind whether or not the piece really works. It certainly begins impressively with a percussion crescendo at the bottom of the orchestra and then the horns and other brass ring out with sustained chords. The piano itself does not enter until the second section. There are ten sections in all with the following fanciful titles: Minacciando, Spietato, Fragile, Pregando, Solitudine - stato d’animo, Consolante, Stridendo, Lamentabile, Risolutamente and Fragile e conciliante. These descriptors more or less accurately describe the music and each section is interesting in itself. I don’t find that the whole work hangs together very well, however. It seems just too disjointed to sustain its more than 35-minute duration. Though it is scored for piano and orchestra, it is in no way a piano concerto but rather an orchestral work with piano. In some ways, Pärt seems to be going back to the transitional period of his Third Symphony, composed in 1971, with its blocks of sound by the brass and percussion, before he became a mystical minimalist. The quieter Pregando and Solitudine - stato d’animo sections are more reminiscent of his mature tintinnabular pieces. Another piece he composed around the same time that uses some of the same techniques as Lamentate is his In principio for mixed choir and orchestra. That work, which easily sustains its twenty-minute duration, seems much more successful. In any case, the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic under JoAnn Falletta with Ralph van Raat as pianist is every bit as good as Lubimov and Boreyko and a much better bargain. In addition to Lamentate, the ECM disc contains only the short choral Da pacem Domine which lasts under six minutes and is also available in a different version on another ECM disc, containing In principio and four other works adding up to over 70 minutes of music.
This new Naxos disc gives a good impression of the evolution of Arvo Pärt’s style from his student days to the present, at least as it concerns his writing for the piano. Ralph van Raat himself contributes the disc’s notes on Pärt. These are for the most part enlightening, but can also go over the top in his adulation of the composer.
Leslie Wright 

see also review by Byzantion 

A program of piano works tracing Arvo Pärt’s career from his student days to the present.