From the perspective of someone who knew the LP era, the success of Arvo
Pärt would have seemed unaccountable. Now we have a composer from a
Baltic state with a whole CD (not exactly filled to overflowing, it is true,
but still a whole CD) devoted to his music.
Pärt is clearly an advocate of the return of lyricism via the minimalists.
Trace elements of minimalism are there to behold (or be-hear) in the first
two works. They provide an easy key into the affections. Mixed with the insistent
is the lyric and with the lyric the sinews and barbs of Shostakovich's scorched
Both Fratres and Tabula were cult hits on 'minor' labels years
ago and have made their way in the performing world. The running spiccato
of Fratres is mixed with a rubicund cantilena worthy of Vivaldi or
Corelli, all suffused with a violent black-blooded vitality. The music has
an insistent power and the piercing string writing harks back to Sibelius
Symphony No. 7 and further still to Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia.
It also reminded me of the string writing on the recent Peteris Vasks disc.
Tabula Rasa is a longer piece at 23:07 and is in two tracks. Cold
trumpet calls are evoked through the violin solos flashing and flickering
like some Vivaldi concerto cut loose in time. The gamelan of the prepared
piano reminds us of John Cage. The Holst Fugal Overture and the RVW
Tallis Fantasia are also a presence as is RVW's Lark Ascending
heard as if through a light -intensifying prism. Gil Shaham's violin
is of pristine tone blessedly lacking vibrato and letting the music speak
with coursing life. Tippett's Triple Concerto and Corelli
Fantasia are also present in acid-sweet skimming lyricism and a sweet
doom suggestive of the Britten Cantus.
The comparatively oblique opacity of the Third Symphony is chamfered by the
influence of Russian orthodox chant. The mystical first section of Rimsky's
Russian Easter Festival Overture is a voice among many others including
Hovhaness's grand heaven-striding string anthems. Dies Irae shambles
through the pages alongside Sibelian high strings and the shouted glories
of the horns. Shostakovich's mordant attack and a warm consoling melancholy
are presented with snowy fire amid the restless coal-dark shadows of Father
Design values are high although veering towards the trendy which in this
case means let's throw out the old jewel box container and use a multi-fold
card sleeve. No matter that its shelf life will be much shorter and its fragility
will make it a rather scuffed and torn victim in ten years time.
In summary: Good as a disc but not desperately well-filled. Reasonable notes.
A sensitively (very) long break between the end of Tabula and start
of the Symphony marks out a disc in which some musical thought has been invested.
It would however be churlish to be anything other than welcoming to what
is a most arresting release and one which I trust will have successors from
this stable. © Rob Barnett