One of the most grown-up review sites around

51,800 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

  Founder: Len Mullenger             Editor in Chief: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  

Some items
to consider

Yes we are selling
Acte Prealable again!
£11 post-free

we also sell Skarbo

and Oboe Classics


with Eggebrecht we get all the excitement we can handle

Book 1 Book 2 Book3
Mota The Triptych: -Website

Asmik Grigorian

Breathtaking Performance
controversial staging
Review Westbrook
Review Hedley
Every lover of Salome should see this recording
Mullenger interpretation

Vraiment magnifique!

Quite splendid

Winning performances

Mahler Symphony 8
a magnificent disc

a huge talent

A wonderful disc

Weinberg Symphonies 2 & 21
A handsome tribute!

Roth’s finest Mahler yet

Mahler 9 Blomstedt
Distinguished performance


REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

Support us financially by purchasing this from

Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
Kanon Pokajanen
Capella Amsterdam/Daniel Reuss
rec. Vaalse Kerk, Amsterdam, 22-25 September 2015
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC905274 [59:45]

On paper this disc isn’t an easy sell: it’s an hour of a cappella choral music, mostly revolving around a fairly repetitious pattern without much variety or deviation, revolving around themes of penitence and repentance. Yet I found it utterly spellbinding and entirely compelling.

Arvo Pärt has found an unusual degree of fame for a contemporary composer through his minimalist textures and his Orthodox mysticism. He’s from the same eastern European mystical school as the likes of Henryk Górecki, and their music’s appeal comes from similar roots. If more of Pärt’s oeuvre has found popularity then it’s probably thanks to his more widespread adoption by film and TV directors, but his religious faith has been at the centre of his identity since his conversion to Orthodoxy in the early 1970s.

Kanon Pokajanen, composed as a commission to commemorate the 750th anniversary of Cologne Cathedral, sets a long canticle text, the Canon of Repentance, by Andrew of Crete. The text consists of a series of odes with interjections and a final prayer, and the helpful booklet notes explain more about the structure of Orthodox canticles in general, as well as giving the full texts and translations.

The theme is almost universally one of sorrow for sin and beseeching God’s mercy, and Pärt echoes the constant theme of his text with a steady musical treatment that varies only very slightly as the work progresses through its hour-long time span. Repetition is both its mainstay and the key to its success. The choir takes a vocal nugget, latches onto it and sings it again and again and again, in classic minimalist style, often with the sopranos singing the melody while the basses sing a drone underneath. Often there is some interplay between unison and harmony, or a change in melodic structure, but very little alteration to the melody.

If that sounds dull, however, it’s anything but. Pärt uses his structure to cast a spell over the listener, working his profound religious faith out through his music and making it as compelling to the listener as it clearly is to the composer. The basics of Orthodox plainchant and prayer are all there, but the composer makes them entirely his own, and I was totally convinced. I began by following the words as I listened, but after only a short while I put the words aside and simply surrendered myself to the music, entering a near-mesmerised state before long.

The performance, too, is very good. The Cappella Amsterdam, who recently gave us such an excellent Brahms disc, here give the most convincing impression of an eastern Orthodox choir that I think I’ve ever heard from a group of western Europeans. The upper voices are tight and totally on the note, while the basses anchor the whole performance with their dark, dreamy drone that is so intrinsic to the work’s success. They never once sound like tourists in this repertoire, and I was convinced throughout. The roomy acoustic helps, too, so that the resonance of the sound is every bit as much a part of the performance as the notes sung by the choir.

So unless you’re totally allergic to Pärt’s minimalist style, I think this is a disc that will repay exploration. As Gilles Saint Arroman’s booklet notes say, “Here it seems as if time no longer counted, as if we are approaching the Time of God – Eternity… Hence, in a sense, the Kanon Pokajanen marks out a path towards divine communion.” If that doesn’t make you want to explore, then I’m not sure what will.

Simon Thompson



We are currently offering in excess of 51,800 reviews

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger