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Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
Musica Selecta - A Sequence by Manfred Eicher
Es sang vor langen Jahren (1984) [6:02]
Für Alina (1976) [10:42]
Mein Weg (1989/99, rev. 2000)[6:22]
Kanon Pokajanen Ode VI (1997) [8:21]
Silouans Song (1991) [5:38]
Fratres (1977/80) [11:29]
Alleluia-Tropus (2008/2010) [2:45]
Trisagion (1992/98) [11:50]
Beatus Petronius (1990/2011) [5:15]
Pilgrims’ Song / Wallfahrtslied (1984/2001)[8:57]
Most Holy Mother of God (2003) [5:00]
Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten (1977) [5:07]
Magnificat (1989) [6:43]
Festina Lente (1988/1990) [5:29]
From: Lamentate (2002)
Fragile [1:04]
Pregando [5:59]
Stabat Mater (1985) [24:04]
Da Pacem Domine (2004/2007)[4:57]
Vladimir Mendelssohn (viola), Gidon Kremer (violin),
Susan Bickley (alto), Alexander Malter (piano), Keith Jarrett (piano)
Vox Clamantis, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
Sinfonietta Riga, Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, Latvian Radio Choir
Saulius Sondeckis: conductor, Tõnu Kaljuste: conductor
rec. 1983-2011, dates and venues – numerous.
ECM NEW SERIES 2454/55 [68:28 + 72:55]

Arvo Pärt has become one of the most renowned and frequently performed composers of our time, and while he had been working for many years beforehand – essentially behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ in Soviet occupied Estonia, it was the introduction of his Tabula Rasa to a wider public through Manfred Eicher, whose ECM New Series was launched in 1984 as a platform for Pärt’s music. Since then the composer and producer have maintained a creative partnership that has lasted for more than thirty years.

The ECM label can proudly lay claim to première recordings of all of Pärt’s major works, and to celebrate Pärt’s 80th birthday in 2015 Eicher has drawn on the rich archive of their shared musical journey, setting his selection of pieces in a dramaturgical sequence that invites us to hear this music with fresh ears. Almost all of the works here are from original ECM première releases, with the addition of a previously unreleased version of Most Holy Mother of God.

Much has changed in the world of music since 1984 – not so much in terms of notes on the page, but in the way we interact with music as the stuff of life. In essence, there are no longer any real secrets. When Tabula Rasa hit the airways a new realm was opened, and the world found it had been hungry for this new discovery and the wealth of creativity surrounding it. Musica Selecta as a sampler is today something of an anachronism. Almost all of us can access a great deal of music just by searching online, so if you want to find out about Pärt’s music and whether it’s something which will appeal to you, there’s no real need to invest in what is after all a nicely packaged sequence of re-releases. Real fans of Pärt are already likely to have most of the original recordings in one form or another, so where does this leave us?

To start with, even though much of this music has now been recorded - often superbly - by others via different labels, there is something special about these ECM versions that cannot be reproduced. That premiere of the actual piece Tabula Rasa, not included in this collection, was a live recording and by no means perfect in every regard. The atmosphere around that performance is however unique, and for those of us who discovered the work through that original ECM release there have been few that come even close to providing that jaw-dropping experience. There is an authenticity and devotional quality to the performances recorded by ECM which suits Pärt’s work perfectly. The musicians sought to make these recordings are often native Estonian, or friends and colleagues of the composer, and the conductor Tõnu Kaljuste is just one of a number of key figures that have brought Pärt’s work to life as few others have been able. In other words, yes, you can find these pieces recorded elsewhere, but they just don’t come better this. Add to this that the ECM label has not joined in with the mad rush to have titles available through commercial online streaming services, and this compilation begins to look increasingly attractive even if you just want to explore Pärt yourself for a the first time, or introduce him to a friend.

We all have our favourites, and you may find yourself missing some here. Spectacular classics such as Arbos don’t really suite the atmosphere. Larger scale and indivisible works such as the remarkable Litany and award-winning Adam’s Lament are clearly absent for reasons of space and proportion, but the extracts from Kanon Pokajanen and Lamentate are well chosen. You can’t have everything, but what you can have is a new total immersion in Arvo Pärt’s world, curated and brought together by the person who knows them better than anyone else on the planet, producer Manfred Eicher. This is the way to experience Musica Selecta. I had been dipping in and revisiting familiar recordings and wondering how to approach this release, but on actually starting to write this review soon came to realise that the best, if not the only way to experience Musica Selecta is to put on your headphones, lean back, close your eyes, and let yourself be carried away on the wavelength of a profoundly sublime 19 track radio station.

Moving between pieces on these discs is like moving between the chambers of a vast cathedral or monastery. Here, there are chamber musicians or a soloist making time still with the most sparing of musical means. There is an orchestra, expanding space and time with the richness of their sonorities, and around the corner a choir in deepest contemplation of the spiritual. You have to take the time to allow all of this to have its effect. There is no point in channel-hopping, and the impact of the greatest moments will only have their full weight if you’ve put your trust in the programme and allowed Mr Eicher to guide you. There is a good reason for having, for instance, Silouans Song at the heart of CD 1. With everything that is going on around us I would defy anyone not to be moved most deeply by this work, as it stands, and heard in context with the works that have gone before. This is the point of Musica Selecta, and one of the main reasons for commending it even to those whose Pärt collections are an embarrassment of riches. If, by the time you have experienced it all, to that incredible monument in music Da Pacem Domine and beyond, if by then you don’t consider your life changed in any way whatsoever, then alas …

Dominy Clements


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