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Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
Darf ich (1995 rev. 1999) [2:52]
Fratres (1977 rev. 1999) [10:26]
Passacaglia (2003) [4:42]
Tabula rasa (1977) [31:32]
Spiegel im Spiegel (1978) [9:25]
Viktoria Mullova (violin)
Florian Donderer (violin, Tabula rasa)
Liam Dunachie (piano, Spiegel im Spiegel)
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
rec. 2017, Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn; 2018, Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden, UK (Spiegel)
ONYX 4201 [59:02]

It is always interesting when an established virtuoso takes up the work of a composer who, for all his popularity, has been seen as something of a coterie enthusiasm, and treats his work as standard repertoire. That is what Viktoria Mullova does here, giving exemplary performances of some of Pärt’s best-known works, with only the occasional tendency to play slightly sharp to betray the virtuoso violinist that she is.

Darf ich, originally written for Menuhin and then revised for Gidon Kremer is one of the less familiar works here. It is for solo violin and strings with a bell and features a soaring and swooping solo violin line. It is very short but wholly characteristic.

Fratres is one of the works which made Pärt’s reputation, and it exists in several versions. This one is for solo violin, strings and percussion. It begins with strenuous fiddling before the orchestral strings come in with a much slower version of the same material. The work settles into a series of cycles, each one ending with a few pizzicato notes and some notes on the claves, before a coda fades into silence.

The Passacaglia is another work originally written for Gidon Kremer and existing in several forms. Here we hear it for solo violin and strings. Although there is some evidence of a debt to Bach, it is not really very Bach-like, and it ends with a lament in the Phrygian mode, very affecting in the context.

Tabula rasa is Pärt’s longest instrumental work, and it takes up half the playing time on this disc. It is a kind of concerto, for two violins with string orchestra and prepared piano. This last was an idea of that very different composer John Cage: screws are inserted between some of the piano strings, to produce bell sounds when played. There are two movements: Ludus, which means play, and is subtitled ‘with movement’, and Silentium, double the length of Ludus, and subtitled ‘without movement.’ Ludus begins with the two violins at the opposite ends of their ranges, but settles down to figurations distantly reminiscent of baroque music. Silentium is more characteristic in being static and contemplative. Repeating and slightly varying figures slowly ascend and descend. In a good performance such as this certainly is, the effect is quite hypnotic.

Finally, Spiegel im Spiegel (mirror in the mirror) is for violin with piano. Over an accompaniment derived from Bach’s first prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier, the violin sings a gentle line, always returning to the note A. This is a contemplative work, a fit companion to Messiaen’s Louange a l’immortalité de Jésus from the Quatuor pour la fin du temps.

Parvo Järvi and the Estonian National Symphony orchestra provide restrained and idiomatic support. In Tabula rasa Florian Donderer plays the second solo violin line and in Spiegel im Spiegel Liam Dunachie accompanies sensitively. The recordings, apart from the last, were made in the sympathetic acoustic of the Estonia Concert Hall; Spiegel im Spiegel was recorded in the UK, but the listener will not notice a change. The composer was present at the recording sessions.

The production of this disc is not worthy of the performances. It is supplied in a flimsy cardboard sleeve without a jewel case, and the notes are skimpy in the extreme. There are some session shots. The playing time is also not generous: one or two more Pärt works, such as Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten, Summa or Festina Lente could have been added. Still, in its own terms this a fine and idiomatic recording and listeners will not be disappointed.

Stephen Barber

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