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Arvo PÄRT (b.1935)
Te Deum (1985) [31:15]
Wallfahrtslied/Pilgrim’s Song (1984) [8:10]
Berliner Messe (1990) [17:42]
Dopo la vittoria/After the Victory (1997) [9:36]
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Peter Dijkstra
rec. live, Munich, 13, 15 February 2014 (Wallfahrtslied); 23, 25 February 2012 (Berliner Messe), Prinzregententheater; 11-13 July 2012 (Dopo la vittoria), Herkulessaal der Residenz.
BR KLASSIK 900511 [67:06]

2015 marks Arvo Pärt’s 80th anniversary and we have already been treated to some fine releases of his work. None of the music on this BR Klassik release is new, so you will have to look to your own libraries to see if it will be filling gaps or supplementing old favourites. These recordings are labelled as ‘live’ through there is no audience noise or applause.

My reference for the Te Deum is the one conducted by Tõnu Kaljuste on ECM 1505. This is a superb performance, but you will notice far greater presence in the electronic effects from the outset in this Munich recording. The potent atmosphere of this deep exhalation of sound also makes its impact felt further along, and this and the fuller bass levels on this recording make two good reasons for wanting to have it around. The voices are however more generalised, the difference in placement of the three choirs less distinctive. There is also some congestion in the sound at peak volume. You can sample this from about 6:27, the voices at full tilt making the sound seem lumpy and compressed, which is a shame. Peter Dijkstra is more expansive than Kaljuste but the pace of the music is well judged, the extra couple of minutes accountable through the weight of those atmospheric special effects which are indeed worth lingering over, and the big acoustic of the performance space.

Pilgrim’s Song is to be found on ECM 1795 with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and chorus under Tõnu Kaljuste, who adds about 30 seconds to Peter Dijkstra’s also nicely sustained and stealthily dramatic performance. Kaljuste is a fraction more serene and quiet in the opening bars, enhancing contrasts further along, but honours are about even in both performances, the more direct BR Klassik sound once again helping to deliver those low sonorities more fully. It has to be said that Dijkstra is less sensitive to the text here. Listen to where Kaljuste takes the dynamic right down at “…schläft und Schlummert nicht”, leaving space for a new world to be created at “Der Herr behütet dich”, where Dijkstra keeps pretty much the same volume with his voices between the two phrases.

For the Berliner Messe we can go back to ECM 1505 for comparison, but what’s this? Some bright spark has decided to plonk Dopo la vittoria in between the Gloria and the Credo of the Mass This put me in mind of the Pärt/Palestrina mashup from Globe Records a while ago and seems almost equally daft as a concept. No justification for this placement is given in the booklet. Part of the strength of the Berliner Messe, and indeed of many of Pärt’s multi-movement works, is the building of an atmosphere which takes you on a well-planned emotional ride. The transition from Gloria to Credo is part of this journey, the version on Kaljuste’s 1993 ECM recording also including two crucial Alleluia verses and the Veni Sancte Spiritus, which takes us right down to the spiritual focus point of Da virtutis meritum, da salutis exitum, da perenne gaudium, before the commencement of the more extrovert Credo. Yes, these are indicated ad libitum in the score – at least in the version with organ which I happen to have, but I wouldn’t consider this a licence to parachute an entirely different work in their place. This Dopo la vittoria is perfectly fine but like a birthday cake at a funeral or Wellington’s Sieg popping up in the middle of the Missa Solemnis it’s in the wrong place, no matter how well-made or performed.

Either way, I prefer Kaljuste’s more detailed and distinctive shaping of the choral lines in the Berliner Messe, although his swifter pace in the Credo does make the words a little harder to follow. The sustained atmosphere of the Sanctus is more magical than with Dijkstra, and while the sparing finale of the Agnus Dei is beautifully performed by both, once again the timeless atmosphere created by the Estonian musicians tips the balance in their favour.

Full sung texts are given in Latin, German and English. This release with Peter Dijkstra has much to commend it, and despite my niggling criticisms this is a very fine set of performances of some of Arvo Pärt’s best choral music. There are some stunning sounds on this recording, and it can take a justifiable place in the evolution of these works as their recorded history unfolds. That there are other recordings with arguably more enduring qualities is a cross which has to be borne by all too few contemporary composers, and I’m sure those concerned will bear it with fortitude.

Dominy Clements