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Arvo PÄRT (b.1935)

Für Alina (1975) [4:00]
Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977) [6:27]
Fratres I (1977) [8:10]
Steve REICH (b.1936)
New York Counterpoint (1985) [11:14]
*Purl Ground, for marimba (2003) [11:24]
Spiegel im Spiegel (1978) [10:25]
(All works except * arranged for percussion by Kuniko Kato)
Kuniko Kato (marimba, vibraphone, crotales, bells)
rec. BankArt 1929 NYK Studio, Yokohama, Japan, 4-8 August 2012 (Spiegel, Fratres); Lake Sagami Hall, Kamagawa, Japan, 2-22 November 2012 (Cantus, Reich, Davies); Azumino church, Nagano, Japan, 6-7 November 2012 (Für Alina).
LINN CKD 432 [51:40] 

Estonia is one of the few countries of the world of which it can be said that its most famous musician is a composer of art music. Arvo Pärt is that man, although to hear his name uttered by non-Finnic-language speakers, it seems he is widely thought to be German - in fact, the -ä- of Pärt is similar to the -a- of 'pat' rather than the -e- of 'pet', and neither 'r' is silent. 

Right pronunciation or wrong, Pärt has written much excellent music. None of it, unfortunately, has made it into percussionist Kuniko Kato's programme for this recording. Instead, she has selected the four banal works he is, ironically, famous for. The question then is, does anyone really need to hear them arranged, however skilfully, for marimba or vibraphone? 'Need', definitely not. But 'want'? Most likely, yes: Linn and Kato surely know that this is precisely the kind of thing that virtually anyone might buy, whether the student looking for middle-brow chill-out music, the Classic FM-listening mum with a pile of ironing to do, or the self-styled trendy for whom the adoration of Steve Reich is de rigueur. Indeed, Kato's first album, 'Kuniko Plays Reich', was Linn's bestseller of 2011. 

This time she felt inspired to rearrange Pärt, and more Reich, "to make minimalist music more accessible", as she puts it in the accompanying notes. She does not explain how she proposes to reinvent this particular wheel, nor indeed how she overcomes what she considers to be the "huge challenge" of interpreting "the raw emotion of each composition". Not unlike minimalist music itself, Kato's notes are in fact ingratiating, self-important and hyperbolic: whilst Hywel Davies's Purl Ground - a softer, slower, less eventful version of Reich's New York Counterpoint! - is a "highly important piece", Pärt's music "has incredible qualities: the ability to convey the entire scope of human emotion as well as the immense force and harshness of the natural world in which we live." Note that she is not talking about his symphonies, Credo or Stabat Mater, but about the child-like piano cameo Für Alina and the reflective but trite and interminable Spiegel im Spiegel. 

On the other hand it must be said that Kato has an impeccable sense of rhythm and a capacity for concentration that goes way beyond anything that could reasonably be expected of her audience as they listen to these repetitious pieces. Yet, though jejune on many levels, it cannot be denied that these works, Pärt's especially, have a mesmeric quality that sucks the unwary listener into the Void. Kato's superb control of the marimba and vibraphone deepens these pulsing, rocking and 'tintinnabular' effects. Ultimately her CD will appeal greatly to those who consider minimalism the best thing since sliced bread, and not at all to those that find it about as varied and characterful as just such a loaf. 

Linn do have a deserved reputation for excellent sound quality, easily upheld here, but frankly the engineering dollars would have been better spent elsewhere, not least because some of the tracks have been studio-reprocessed anyway. At least Linn have not been generous with the timing.  


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