This recording offers a good selection of Pärt’s music which will suit beginners
and experienced Pärt-fanciers alike. I imagine that most of us fall between
those two extremes; we know what to expect by now, if only from his Cantus
in Memoriam Benjamin Britten. In the rather lazy filing cabinet of
my mind he’s listed with the modern East European minimalists, Rautavaara,
Górecki, Vasks – mostly music with a slow tempo, rather austere to the point
of melancholy, but meditatively and ethereally beautiful. As a greatly simplified
summary, that covers most of the music on this new recording.
Risto Joost has recorded three of these works, Wallfahrtslied,
Nunc Dimittis and Te Deum, before, with Voces Musicales
and the Tallinn Orchestra on Estonian Record Productions ERP2309, a recording
which Gavin Dixon judged a fitting tribute to the composer for his 75th
birthday in September 2010 – review.
Since then, though only a couple of years have elapsed, Joost’s timings
have shortened quite noticeably except for the Te Deum where the
new recording is mere seconds faster than the earlier recording.
Wallfahrtslied (Pilgrim Song) is a setting of one of the psalms
sung by pilgrims going up to Jerusalem. It was written to commemorate the
untimely death of a friend. It establishes the tone for the rest of the
music – approachable, yet exotic – and the performance brings out those
As the title suggests, Orient and Occident juxtaposes music from
East and West. There’s an award-winning rival recording on ECM, which also
includes the Wallfahrstlied (ECM 472 080-2). I haven’t heard it,
though it has been well received, not least by Tony Haywood – review.
I can’t imagine that it improves on Risto Joost and his team in either work.
This performance of Nunc dimittis is up against strong competition
from Polyphony and Stephen Layton on Hyperion CDA30013.
Layton’s mid-price release is in Hyperion’s 30th anniversary
series. The Nunc dimittis is coupled with Triodion, Salve
Regina and other works, which I described as ‘a very valuable collection
of Pärt’s distinctive, often complex, but approachable choral music’ in
my October 2010 Download Roundup.
Joost takes a minute less than Layton, whose 7:33 is exactly the same as
Joost’s erstwhile self on Estonian Records. It’s not the fastest time on
record – Noel Edison and the Elora Festival Singers on a Naxos recording
take 6:19 (8.570239 – review).
It doesn’t sound in any way rushed.
Under Layton’s direction the music emerges as it were from nowhere, which
is fine for a late-evening canticle (Evensong or Compline), but the delicacy
of his performance masks the words until about half way through, so that
we obtain merely a sensation of their meaning. That’s perhaps taking what
I’ve described as the ethereal aspect of Pärt’s music to extremes. I very
much like the way that the performance is shaped to be a journey from silence
to acclamation and back into silence - from darkness to light and from light
Joost allows the tempo and volume to increase rather earlier than Layton,
though the words are still almost as hard to hear at first. It’s only by
comparison with Layton, however, that I find this performance slightly less
moving; the singing is just as fine and some will prefer the slightly faster
pace and slightly greater audibility of the text.
Fratres exists in six different versions: if you want them all,
you’ll find them with Cantus, Summa and Festina lente,
on Telarc CD80387: I Fiamminghi conducted by Rudolf Werthen. It’s a work
that has been recorded many times but this version, with violin solo admirably
performed, can stand on its own against the best of them.
The basic concept is mathematical – variations on a chant-like theme. The
result is as hypnotic as any of Pärt’s music. Though it’s the earliest of
the works here, it heraldedPärt’s ‘new’ style and is perfectly in keeping
with the rest of the music. Though Joost is a little faster than on his
earlier recording in most of the music on Globe, he’s slightly slower than
the performance of the strings and percussion version of Fratres
on The Very Best of Arvo Pärt, an inexpensive EMI twofer which
Rob Barnett praised – review.
RB speaks of the Tallis-like intensity of the music – perhaps he was thinking
especially of the Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia, which this
performance certainly brings to mind. I can’t imagine the music being better
Like the Nunc Dimittis, Pärt’s setting of the morning canticle
Te Deum arises as if from nothing. Don’t expect this to be as approachable
as Fratres or to sound like an outburst of praise. Even the hymn
of the cherubim and seraphim, Sanctus, sounds contemplative rather
than acclamatory. The music bursts into life at the following words: Pleni
sunt cæli et terra majestatis gloriæ tuæ – heaven and earth
are full of the majesty of thy glory – before returning to contemplation,
a pattern regularly repeated throughout this piece.
The work is over-long for liturgical use but it leaves a powerful impression
in a performance as intense as that here. Joost was wise not to push the
tempo any more than on his earlier recording. In the 1990s Pärt avoided
the obvious step of revising his 1984/5 Te Deum in fulfilling a
commission from the City of Milan to celebrate the anniversary of the death
of St Ambrose, the putative author of the Te Deum. He set instead
an Italian text commemorating the origin of the canticle, Dopo la vittoria.
It’s included with Nunc Dimittis on the Hyperion recording of Triodion
to which I’ve referred. It was worth the wait for this 2007 revision of
the Latin text.
The recorded sound is very good throughout. Although the acoustic is rather
resonant, it’s marginally clearer in the Nunc Dimittis than the
Hyperion, though that’s partly due to the difference in interpretations.
The notes are brief but informative and all the texts and translations are
included, though a few typos have crept in here: ‘venerator’ for ‘veneratur’
in the Te Deum; ‘they people Israel’ in the Nunc Dimittis.
A good selection of Pärt’s music well suited to beginners and experienced