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Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
Collage über B-A-C-H (1964) [7:16]
Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen (1998) [11:48]
Cecilia, vergine romana (2000) [20:13]
Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten (1977) [7:42]
Litany (1994) [23:09]
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Ulf Schirmer, Robert King, Peter Dijkstra
The Hilliard Ensemble/Marcello Viotti
rec. live, 2000-2011, various locations.
BR KLASSIK 900319 [70:08]

Titled ‘Arvo Pärt Live’, this is the kind of release that can enrich and enhance your Pärt collection even if you already have recordings of some or even all of the works here. With fine recordings in nicely resonant church acoustics of mostly excellent performances, you can make discoveries and further enhance your appreciation of this composer.

Collage über B-A-C-H pre-dates Pärt’s now more familiar tintinnabuli style, but while it does have some avant-garde features it is a compact and approachable piece, the integration of J.S Bach’s music with contemporary exploration reminding us of some of Schnittke’s music but pre-dating his series of Concerto Grosso works by many years. The Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen set German texts from the Catholic liturgy and appear here in a slightly larger sounding choral performance than for instance Paul Hillier’s Theatre of Voices recording for Harmonia Mundi (review). The sense of dynamic tension in both versions is comparable, but it is interesting to hear how the Bavarian sound with vibrato changes the feel of these short pieces when compared to Hillier’s non-vibrato astringency.

Cecilia, vergine romana with chorus and orchestra has a “sparse, introverted and yet touchingly rapturous sonority” as described by Guide Johannes Joerg in the booklet notes for this release. Sung texts are alas not included in this booklet, but this is a decent performance from the forces here. It doesn’t quite top the subtle qualities to be heard on the ECM In Principio album (review) in the vocal extremes Pärt sometimes demands of the singers, but it is a worthy competitor in general, with plenty of drawn-out drama and a good balance between chorus and orchestra. The second half from 10:32 is one of my favourite Pärt moments, and delivers here very well indeed.

The now famous Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten gets a good meaty performance here, with the Munich strings wringing every ounce out of that extended conclusion with rich bass sonorities underpinning the forceful upper tones and ending with impressive tubular bell sound as they cease. Perhaps less familiar but no less impressive is Litany, here with the Hilliard Ensemble – still very much extant in 2000 when this recording was made. The ECM label has its competition, cat. ECM New Series 1592, in which the Hilliard Ensemble are again soloists, this time with the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra led by Tõnu Kaljuste. The differences here are quite stark, with the more recent recording losing some of the magical effect through having the Hilliards more forward in the mix and allowing them a looser rein in terms of vocal style. The darkly subdued atmosphere of the ECM recording is much more potent and the orchestra much better controlled – the Münchner Rundfunkorchester not quite as at ease with Pärt than the Tallinn players for whom he is part of the local furniture in music terms. This is not to say this BR recording is a complete dud and there are some moving choral moments further along, but if Litany is your main reason for buying then the ECM recording offers far more in terms of sheer atmosphere and beauty.

Yes indeed, you can shop around and find better versions of some of the pieces here, but my argument here is that this is not really what this recording is about. As an album it is a satisfying and at times deeply powerful experience by any objective terms, and hearing live performances by top musicians is almost always a treat. This mixture of shorter and more extended works provides a useful introduction to Pärt if you are a newcomer, and will be a rewarding attraction to his many fans.

Dominy Clements
 
Previous review: Michael Cookson
 
Performance details
Collage über B-A-C-H für Streicher, Oboe, Cembalo und Klavier
Yeon-Hee Kwak (oboe), Max Hanft (cembalo/klavier), Münchner Rundfunkorchester / Robert King (director)
rec. live 18 February 2005, Jesuitenkirche St. Michael, Munich

Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen für gemischten Chor a cappella
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks / Peter Dijkstra (director)
rec. live 3 December 2005, Sankt Joseph Kirche, Munich

Cecilia, vergine romana für Chor und Orchester
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Münchner Rundfunkorchester / Ulf Schirmer (director)
rec. live 21 January 2011, Herz-Jesu-Kirche, Munich

Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten für Streichorchester und Glocke
Münchner Rundfunkorchester / Ulf Schirmer (director)
rec. live 28 October 2011, Herz-Jesu-Kirche, Munich

Litany. Prayers of St John Chrysostom for Each Hour of the Day and Night für Soli, Chor und Orchester
The Hilliard Ensemble (David James (countertenor), Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor), John Potter (tenor), Gordon Jones (bass)), Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Marcello Viotti (director)
rec. live 8 July 2000, St. Gabriel Kirche, Munich

 

 




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