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Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
Te Deum, for three choirs, prepared piano, string orchestra and tape (1984/85/1992) [31:15]
Wallfahrtslied (Pilgrims’ Song) for men’s choir and string orchestra (2001) [8:10]
Berliner Messe (Berlin Mass), for mixed choir and string orchestra (1990/91/2002):
i. Kyrie [3:24]
ii. Gloria [4:04]
Dopo la vittoria (After the Victory), Little Cantata for choir a-cappella (1997) [9.36]
Berliner Messe (Berlin Mass) for mixed choir and string orchestra (1990/91/2002):
iii. Credo [4:14]
iv. Sanctus [3:19]
v. Agnus Dei [2:19]
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Peter Dijkstra
rec. live, 2012/14, Prinzregententheater, Herkulessaal, Munich, Germany
BR KLASSIK 900511 [67:06]

This disc presents four works from the pen of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt — mature examples of his very individual style.

In the early 1960s Pärt was condemned by Tikhon Khrennikov, head of the Union of Soviet Composers and viewed with suspicion by the Soviet authorities for his avant-garde compositional style which included the use of serialism. Following a voluntary creative exile Pärt became drawn to the spirituality of Gregorian chant and the Russian Orthodox faith. From this he developed a new form of musical language that he described as a tintinnabulation style related to minimalism. Certainly the music at its finest has the ability to communicate an intense and moving spirituality.

The feature work is the Te Deum - a hymn of joy and thanksgiving traditionally attributed to St. Ambrose and St. Augustine. Pärt’s Te Deum was a commission by the Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Cologne in 1984.  This substantial work written in Pärt’s distinctive tintinnabuli style was introduced by the WDR Broadcast Choir under Dennis Russell Davies in early 1985 and was revised later in 1992. The version directed here by Dijkstra is for women’s choir, men’s choir, and mixed choir, prepared piano, string orchestra and tape. Occasionally meditative, with a rather hypnotic charm, this is a powerful work that makes quite an impact and is certainly one of Pärt’s greatest achievements.

Wallfahrtslied (Pilgrims’ Song) was written in1984 in remembrance of the sudden death of Pärt’s friend the film director Grigori Kromanov. It sets text from Psalm 121 and is sung in German. Dijkstra directs the 2001 version that Pärt prepared for men’s choir and string orchestra. The writing for strings is magnificent especially the darkly resonant double basses which at times could have come from a score for an Alfred Hitchcock suspense thriller.

In 2011 I recall attending an affecting performance of Pärt’s Berliner Messe played during an actual Sunday Mass at the Michaelskirche, Munich. Originally scored for four vocal parts and organ the work was composed in 1990 for the 90th Roman Catholic Day in Berlin and was premièred in the city’s St. Hedwig’s RC Cathedral.

The score which again employs Pärt’s tintinnabuli technique is given here in the 2002 version scored for mixed choir and string orchestra. This is an appealing work with the writing imbued with a reverential serenity. Especially striking are the determined robust character of the Gloria and the tender temperament of the female voices maintained throughout the Agnus Dei.

Pärt’s little cantata Dopo la vittoria (After the victory) for a cappella choir was completed in 1997. It was a commission by the City of Milan to mark the 1600th anniversary of the death of Saint Ambrose, a Bishop of Milan. With the unaccompanied chorus singing the Italian text the work opens in a manner that reminded me of a Christmas carol. It is full of varied vocal effects. Pärt suggested that the Dopo la vittoria could be fitted in between the Gloria and the Credo of the Berliner Messe which is how the work it is programmed here.

These are persuasive performances that can move the listener by their engaging and often haunting devotional intensity. Typically Dijkstra’s judicious preparation ensures that nothing seems improperly forced. The sacred text is reverential, with the voices projecting vividly and blending splendidly through conspicuously immaculate intonation. Expressive character in the singing is nicely balanced with pin-point accuracy.

Decent booklet notes and clear and well balanced sound add to the overall desirability of the release.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Dominy Clements


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